9 Questions with
Gary Phillips

Son of a mechanic and a librarian, weaned on too many comic books, Hammett, reruns of the original Twilight Zone, and experiences as a community organizer and delivering dog cages, Gary Phillips has published various crime fictions and toiled in TV. He is the past president of the SoCal chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, and the anthology he edited, the Obama Inheritance: Fifteen Stories of Conspiracy Noir, won an Anthony.

How did The Movie Makers (Down and Out Books, April 2019) come about?

I’ve done several books with Down & Out, including a collection of my short stories, and have gotten to know several of their writers. Frank Zafiro is one of them, though oddly we’ve never met in person. At any rate, my name was put in the hat when he came up with this series, A Grifter’s Song, a series of novellas, or maybe that’s novellettes, about Sam and Rachel, a couple who are life-long con artists. Each installment, or episode as they’re calling them, finds the pair working another con in another city while trying to stay one step ahead of the mobster out for their heads.

In the Movie Makers, the two have come to where dreams are made and crushed, Hollywood, baby. Rachel is posing as an indie producer backed by Silicone Valley money and Sam a life coach as they set up their mark. It’s al going according to plan until it does. I like to think of it as Harold Robbins meets Jim Thompson.

And in February, The Be-Bop Barbarians: A Graphic Novel, was published. Tell me about that.

The Be-Bop Barbarians was a labor of love as they say. It’s a graphic novel set in the late 1950s New York; jazz, the Red Scare, and the burgeoning Civil Rights movement the backdrop. The main characters are three cartoonist friends inspired by real life black comics pioneers including Jackie Ormes (who is in the Hall of Fame for comics), the first black women to write and draw her own comic strip. In this version she’s called Stef Rawls and she’s buddies with the matinee handsome Cliff Murphy, who his friends know he passes for white detailing the adventures of the Blonde Phantom in comic books, and Ollie Jefferson, a Korean War vet who does hard-edged political cartoons for the lefty newspaper, The Daily Struggle. As these things happen, events conspire in their lives to bring them together and drive them apart. The book was wonderfully illustrated by Dale Berry and lavishly colored by James Brown.

As if that weren’t enough, The Obama Inheritance: Fifteen stories of conspiracy noir (Three Rooms Press, 2017), what was its genesis?

Funny enough, when I pitched the Obama Inheritance to Kat and Peter of Three Rooms Press, it was just as the presidential campaign was heating up, but like a lot of folks, we figured the Orange One couldn’t win by a country mile. I figured the anthology would be this quant nostalgia piece, stories riffing on the outlandish right-wing nutjob notions that had been floated about Obama. Who knew the wildly entertaining tales in it from subterranean lizard people, the First Lady leading a clandestine group of vigilante women in Washington after dark to Bo, the family dog, leading the resistance, could barely keep up with the daily lunacy we find ourselves in currently.

How is it you’re so prolific?

Once the ideas bubble up, I have to do something with them or they gnaw at me. If nothing else, I find writing is good therapy.

Why is crime fiction so appealing?

I think because you can present characters who run the gamut in terms of their psychological makeup. They may have limits or they may be erasing them as you put them through the paces. They may be cons like Sam and Rachel, amoral, bent, damaged, or the ordinary soccer mom, but that one incident, that one time she decides to take a step out of line, we’re vicariously fascinated to see where this journey will take her.

What drew you to crime fiction?

How could I not be drawn to it growing up in South Central when I did? Those were the days you’d hear about some brother getting jacked by the cops out of the infamous 77th Street Division. Add all those original Twilight Zone reruns I zealously watched and then getting a collection of Poe’s stories at nine, the course was set.  

Do you think crime fiction is more compelling now that our political climate is often fictional?

Great observation. Hillary Clinton is running a child sex ring in the back of a pizza parlor; the president tweets stuff like, “Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate. He was with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo…” so you know, case closed; Obama hid the death panels; Ivanka Trump was granted 13 trademarks in three months from China; Attorney General Barr plans to investigate spying on the Trump campaign without a shred of evidence to support this claim and on and on. For sure crime fiction is more compelling now because at least in crime fiction there’s some sort of resolution and the antihero has a few good qualities.

What do you want to talk about that you never get to, in interviews?

Why doesn’t my poker playing ever improve?


5 Questions with
E. A. Aymar

This week, it’s Ed Aymar in the seat for our 5 questions. Ed is the author of “The Unrepentant,” a book that Publisher’s Weekly described as a “gut-wretching crime thriller.” Ed is also a hilarious guy in person. How does a hilarious guy plunge into those deep, dark places? Let’s find out!

Q. In the intro to this book, you mention interviewing a number of women about their traumatic experiences in the world of prostitution. I’m sure that was difficult and complicated. How did you do it, and did the experience differ from what you imagined it would be heading in?

First off, thanks Nick! I’m a fan of your work and everyone should read your fantastic novellas. And if you or anyone else edits this out, I’ll just post it in the comments. DON’T TEST ME.

As for your question…you know, I’d never done that much research for my writing. Most of the research I’d conducted was location-based; I write about real places, and I always want to make sure my representation is accurate. I don’t feel comfortable writing about a location unless I’ve set foot there and stared at the buildings or streets or fields with my own eyes.

So this was the first time I did research outside of my own experiences, and it was unnerving. Of course I read, and I read as many books as I could until I began to see the correlation between violence and prostitution, which is the line The Unrepentant explores.

But it was talking to people that was unnerving. I don’t have proper journalism training, and I worried about forgetting to ask something, and then having to call the person back, and then forgetting something else, and basically annoying someone to the point of exasperation. But the people I spoke with – women involved in anti-sex trafficking movements, or active sex workers – were incredibly gracious and giving with their time. We had conversations rather than interviews.

Q. Whenever anyone writes about the kinds of things your characters go through, there’s always the risk it’ll be seen as exploitive. You obviously had that concern when writing this. How did you make sure you didn’t go over the line (i.e., checked yourself before you wrecked yourself)?

Nowadays there’s a lot of deserved feistiness in regards to voice – how you assume the voice of a character, why you’re doing it, and what you’re saying – and I was conscious of that when writing The Unrepentant, particularly because one of the co-protagonists is a young woman. I’m in the fortunate position of having a number of peer readers who are talented women writers, a female agent, and the editor for the book was a woman. They made sure I didn’t fuck up her voice or experiences too dramatically, or guy her up too much.

I wasn’t too worried about sensationalizing the violence or depicting sexual violence graphically. My view on violence is generally that it’s callous, and stupid, and cruel. So there wasn’t too much of a chance of me John Woo’ing a fight scene.

I worry about the celebration of violence in our media and entertainment, and I’d hope that this book doesn’t give readers anything other than a general sense of unease in regards to it. I’m not opposed to violence as entertainment, but that wasn’t the right or responsible approach for this particular book.

Q. What made you decide to tackle this novel now? Why this plot?

That sort of ties into the response to your last question. The people who read my other books tended to gravitate toward my female characters, and I wanted a female as a protagonist. And the more you read about violence – particularly from the perspective I chose – the more you come across violence done to women. Charlotte emerged from those two elements, and the rest of the plot came with her. She started it, the story and the other characters followed in her wake.

But I didn’t set out to write a book about sex trafficking and, although that’s obviously a huge element of the novel and a large focus of my research, I shy away from terming it a “sex trafficking novel.” It’s a study of violence, who does it, and how it affects the abuser and the abused.

Visit EAymar.com

Q. You’re well-known as a managing editor (of The Thrill Begins), a columnist (of the Washington Independent Review of Books), and an anthology editor (of the awesome “The Night of the Flood”). How do you think all that editor experience affects how you write novels? Does it impact how you approach your own writing?  

Hey, thanks for not putting well-known in quotation marks! That’s nice of you.

The Thrill Begins gives me a better understanding of publishing than I’d have otherwise. The regular contributors write for a mix of big five and specialty publishers, and some have experimented in self-publishing. We’re friends, and share with each other what our experiences are like. And the features we do often provide an honest look at the variety of experiences writers have in this business, both good and bad. That’s been extremely helpful in regards to navigating my own career.

When I started writing, I didn’t expect to write anything other than novels; largely because I didn’t think I could write anything other than fiction. And then, after my first novel, was published, I realized how shortsighted I’d been. Writing for the Washington Independent of Books has given me the chance to push myself as a writer, and that’s a wonderful thing. I love being able to be part of the publication, and I love getting to flex a muscle I wouldn’t otherwise.

The cool thing about the anthology is how much it made me sharpen my own game. I’ve reviewed short stories before, and it was so cool to get a batch of stories that were all good. Every story was the realization that I was working with a sharp, hungry, talented writer, and that was such a cool experience. And, as an editor, you see how good writers approach their work in different stages, and that’s insight you wouldn’t get any other way.

Q. How’s the crime fiction scene in MD/VA/DC? Is it becoming more robust?

 

I think it’s the best in the country.

I know those are fightin’ words, but I stand by them. This area is producing some of the best noir, cozies, procedural, political, historical, and cop fiction out there. And given the wonderful diversity in the area, we also have the benefit of writing from a variety of perspectives and experiences.

Which isn’t to say, of course, that good crime fiction isn’t being written in the Midwest, California, New York, Florida, the south…not at all. But I’d absolutely put the DC/MD/VA triangle against any of those regions.

Overall, it’s a wonderful time to be writing crime fiction – competitive, but not cruel. We all support each other, and even though we’re going through some growing pains as we necessarily change and understand and adapt, we’re all here and hungry and working to improve. I love that, and I love being part of it, and I love that the triangle reflects the best of that experience. So suck it, Ohio.

Be sure to leave a comment below to be eligible to win a digital copy of THE UNREPENTANT by E. A. Aymar. Winner will be selected Monday April 29th.


5 Questions with
Nick Kolakowski

This week Nick Kolakowski‘s third and final release of the Love & Bullets trilogy hits with Main Bad Guy. Nick has not only contributed this wonderful series to the Shotgun Honey Book line, but he’s also one of the three gauntlet members who review fiction submissions for the site, as well an unsung book editor for our imprint. He helps out a lot.

In fact, usually, Nick is interviewer for the 5 Questions interviews, but today we flip the script. Nick is the subject, and Travis Richardson, who was Nick’s last victim is the interviewer. So lets see what transpired.

Q. MAIN BAD GUY is the third and final book in the “Love & Bullets” trilogy. When you started the first book, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, did you know it was going to be a trilogy? If so, did you know what each of the stories would be about early on and the ends of the major characters? And if not, do you regret any choices made in the first book that you might not have made if knew it was a three part series?

When I wrote “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps,” I had no idea it would become a trilogy—and I regret killing one of the main characters, who was funny and unhinged and in retrospect would have been a valuable player throughout the subsequent two books. I also regret killing him in a way that gave me absolutely zero wiggle room for bringing him back; at least authors like Arthur Conan Doyle were smart enough to subject their heroes to highly ambiguous demises, like throwing them into a large body of water.

All that aside, after I finished writing “Brutal Bunch,” the characters of Bill and Fiona kept speaking to me, and I felt compelled to begin writing another book about them. Plot-wise, I didn’t know exactly where I wanted them to end up, but character-wise I had very firm ideas: Fiona, who starts out as pretty ruthless and bloodthirsty, was going to get increasingly pacifistic, and Bill, who is a great hustler but pretty much useless when it comes to violence, was going to get more competent at survival.

Q. In MAIN BAD GUY you have a good bad guys (former assassins, thieves, etc.) vs. bad bad guys (evil crime bosses, paranoid drug kings, mercenaries, etc.) Which do you prefer to write and why?

Bad bad guys are hard to sustain over an entire book—that’s why Hannibal Lecter always seems to work better as a supporting character, or at least a second lead, than as a main character. With good bad guys, though, you have a lot of internal friction—there are fine character beats you can mine out of someone whose intentions are good, but whose circumstances lead them to do highly anti-social things like kill people. So I like writing about the good bad guys; they seem more capable of driving a narrative that’s hundreds of pages long.

Q. In the final book, Bill and Fiona spend the entire time in New York. (Seriously they can’t move.) It seems the other two books have multiple locations beyond the Empire State. As a New Yorker, did you want to end the series in the Big Apple as a sort of messed up love letter and what does New York mean to you in terms of crime fiction?

The first book begins in New York (chronologically, at least; it appears in flashbacks) and so I always wanted it to end there. New York has been a prime location for crime fiction for many decades, but the character of the city has changed considerably in the last quarter-century; when you read the early books of someone like Lawrence Block, where Midtown is a seedy wreck, it now seems like an alien world. I wanted “Main Bad Guy” to address New York’s gentrifying environment, and suggest that, no matter how clean or shiny a place might become, at least some of its people will always remain warped or cracked or seedy.

Plus, I’m sick of how gentrification has transformed portions of my neighborhood into a bunch of soulless, tasteless buildings; taking one of those buildings and making it the center of a lot of fiery mayhem gave me a vicarious and vicious thrill.

Visit NickKolakowski.com

Q. The “Love & Bullets” collection has a lot of gonzo action that is hilarious and thrilling. I love it. Were there any scenes that you wrote through the series that you had to retract or tone down to keep it within the realms of reality? Or did you create an impossible situation that Fiona and Bill couldn’t escape?   

I didn’t tone anything down—in fact, at certain key moments, I asked myself how I could maximize the weirdness. The tone of the books is madcap enough that I felt I could really stretch the reality; when you have a character prancing through a gunfight in an Elvis suit (“A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps”), decapitating another character in a self-driving Tesla (“Slaughterhouse Blues”), or trying to hide in a weed grow-house on top of a skyscraper (“Main Bad Guy”), pretty much anything goes.

With “Main Bad Guy,” my goal was ultimately to confine Bill and Fiona into as small a space as possible. I’ve always loved siege movies like John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13,” and I wanted to design something that paid homage to that—put your characters in a box, give them zero resources, surround them with villains, and let them try to figure out how to survive.

Q. You open MAIN BAD GUY with a scene from Fiona’s past. It was a fun and informative scene to know who she is and her relationship with her father. Did you always have that as her bio or did it evolve from the previous novels?

That scene was originally a flashback from the first book! I cut it out because of pacing, but I always wanted to use it; “Main Bad Guy” gave me an opportunity to do so, because it also introduces her father, who plays a major role in the book. If you want insight into Fiona’s character, you just need to realize she’s spent her life emulating her daddy.  


5 Questions with
Travis Richardson

Travis Richardson

Travis Richardson is a regular contributor to Shotgun Honey starting with his first story “The Day We Shot Jesus on Main Street” originally published in 2012. Since then he’s contributed his short fiction to a number of fiction sites and anthologies, becoming an award nominated and well respected writer of short fiction. His work recently appeared in the award winning The Obama Inheritance edited by Gary Phillips.

Today editor and contributor Nick Kolakowski talks with Travis Richardson about his latest release Bloodshot and Bruised: Crime Stories from the South and West, which kicks off with the very story we published six years ago.

Bloodshot and Bruised: Crime Stories from the South and West

Q. Bloodshot and Bruised offers a whole range of crime stories. You touch on everything from the 1992 LA riots to neo-Nazism to good old-fashioned revenge. Is there a common theme that connects most (if not all) of these tales?

While my stories vary in location, structure, and voice, a theme that I often have is the choices that characters make often pivot the stories.  Whether in the present or the past, those choices have consequences. My personal definition of noir is people making bad decisions.

Q. What draws you to writing short stories?

The short answer is completeness and brevity. I can’t say that I’ve ever written a perfect story, but I feel I get closer to perfection the shorter a work is. While editing, I like reading an entire story in one sitting and make changes to the flow and the rhythm that I wouldn’t be able to do with a novel.  A wonderful thing about tight word counts, like flash fiction, is that every unnecessary word gets the hatchet.  

Q. I know this is sort of like asking to choose between favorite children or pets… but what’s your favorite story from this collection?

It’s a little tough, but “The Day We Shot Jesus on Main Street” has to be the one. It was one of my first published short stories, and Shotgun Honey put it out into the world. I received a lot of positive feedback about the story and knew I was on the right path.    

Visit TSRichardson.com

Q. Do you find it easier to write long, or short? What advice do you have for writers who want to craft a perfect short story, but wrestle with keeping the narrative under a certain word-count?

I like the short story because I can complete it. I have several unfinished (and finished) longer works that never feel ready. Typically, my first draft for Shotgun Honey or other flash fiction sites is around 1500 words to get the idea and flow, and then I chip away until only the essentials are left.

I’m not big on descriptions. If there is something unique, I mention it, but outside a of a line or two about a person or place, dialogue and the way a person carries themselves and the way others react to a person or a place is often enough for a reader to visualize all of the elements in a story. 

On longer stories that need to be 5,000 or 10,000 words and I’m over by a few thousand, I’ll try to cut out nonessential scenes by either skipping them or paraphrasing the action. I’ll also go through the MS and focus on paragraphs over 4 lines long and see if I can compress enough words to eliminate a line and move on to the next.

I haven’t been able to do this on a bigger scale for novels. But sometimes bulk is important to the market. I’ve had an agent tell me that while they liked a work, in order to sell a book, I’d need to increase word count to 70k.

Q. What’s next for you?   

Not sure. I finished a short story for an anthology over the weekend. I’ve been writing a quartet of crime novellas set in a West Texas town called Tarwater over the years. The first three are done and edited, I just need to finish writing the finale. I also started a western at the beginning of the year, but left it after 80 pages. I hope to get back to that.

Thank you for the interview, Nick!   


5 Questions with Tom Pitts

Tom Pitts

Tom Pitts is a longtime fixture of the hardboiled scene. His new book, “101,” is a ferocious journey through Northern California’s weed business, set on the cusp of legalization. Its central character, Vic, is a reclusive weed farmer and all-around badass who ends up tangled with some very bad folks. The bodies pile up, along with the double-crosses, as Vic finds himself running out of time and options.

To say anything else would spoil the book’s twists and turns, so we’ll just plunge into our five questions with Mr. Pitts:

101: A Novel by Tom Pitts

Q. It’s clear you did a ton of prep for this book—the detailing around weed, guns, biker gangs, etc. is really impressive. How did you research, and how did that vary (if it did) from your research routine in previous books?

Funny you should ask. I’ve known folks in the pot business a long time. It’s always been a big business in Northern California. Right before I wrote the book, my son started working at a grow in Humboldt County. I went up there to visit and get my hands dirty with the intent of filing away my observations for a book. I still don’t feel like I got it all in; I mean, how could I? But I will say that when my boy (and just to clarify, he’s 28) read the book, he said he got the “feels” ‘cause it made him miss the hills so much. As for the biker end, I interviewed another pal who’d prospected for the big club (the one you’re not allowed to mention), and he gave me a lot of details, like what kind of bikes outlaws prefer, that kind of thing. Texture mostly. But that stuff matters.

I guess technically I did more research than the previous books, although this didn’t feel like research, more like immersion. Yeah, let’s just say I was embedded for a while.

Q. Vic is quite an anti-hero. I don’t think I’ve ever read a ‘suiting up’ scene in a book where, in addition to loading up on a considerable amount of firepower, a character packs an equally considerable amount of alcohol. He’s scary, yet he seems to have a code, and people respect him. How’d you come up with this bad boy, and does he have any real-life inspirations?

He does, actually, but I can’t say who. That’d be “putting yer shit out on Front Street” as they say. But he’s an amalgamation of a couple of tough guys I’ve known. I wanted him to be the strong, silent type, you know? And I needed the reveal of Vic as a mentor to poor Jerry to be slow. It’s clear he’s the alpha dog, but the more delicate side of his nature had to come later.  The anti-hero in “American Static” [Pitt’s previous book—ed.] was such a smartass psychopath, I wanted Vic to be a little more down to earth. And just for the record, I think Vic’s the hero, not the anti-hero. He may get his hands dirty, but he’s always maintaining his code. It’s not the criminal code—God knows there ain’t one of those. It’s more like his own version of the cowboy code.  

Q. The weed business is undergoing some fundamental shifts right now. Some folks even think we’ll see some kind of nationalized legalization at some point (at least after Jeff Sessions stops being Attorney General). Are you ever concerned that something like that would “date” books that deal with weed-based crime? 

That’s the reason I set it “on the cusp of legalization.” I knew it was going to be an issue, but there has to be a line somewhere. Before Prohibition and after, WWI, the late Sixties—things are set in time, there’s no way around it. Good art captures eras; I hope this does the same. It’ll be hard to tell for a few more years.

The characters in “101” are scrambling to grab what chips they can before recreational weed hits the market. Before 2016, the medicinal market was still plenty corrupt. Growers could walk into a dispensary and unload their harvest—if they knew somebody. Nowadays it’s done with licensed brokers only. It takes a lot of money to get one of those licenses, and you have to show it’s clean cash. Laws and bylaws are being created to bust out the Mom ‘n Pop outfits. In fact, they’re adding so many laws and rules, they’re going to kill the taxpaying goose and drive that stuff back underground. That’d be okay with me. And my pals in the hills.

Visit TomPittsAuthor.com

Q. What’s the crime-fiction scene like in the Bay Area right now?

You know, I think I’m plugged into the community, and then I find out something new is happening and I realize I don’t have my finger on the pulse like I thought I did. I’m kind of isolated. Not intentionally, just by work and the drudgery of life. I’m also stuck in San Francisco. Most everybody else in my social strata has been forced out of the City and into the East Bay. It’s a mere fluke I’m still here, hanging on.

Q. With this book out of the way, what’s your next project?  

My next release after “101” is called “Coldwater.” It’s my take on a suburban horror story. A nice couple moves to the ‘burbs and the empty house across the street is suddenly occupied by squatters—if that’s really what they are. The clash between the couple and the squatters and what’s really going on in that empty house is what drives the story forward.


Five Questions
with Marie S. Crosswell

When I first read Marie S. Crosswell’s Texas, Hold Your Queens, I was struck by the ferocity of its prose. It’s a novella with serious teeth, which it sinks into some pretty meaty themes: vengeance, justice, love, trauma, death. Although it takes place in the desert, it’s also a very different beast from the glut of neo-Western-noirs that have hit bookshelves over the past few years—a multi-character study that goes into some seriously uncomfortable places, and leaves you thinking.

Crosswell and I conducted a brief interview about the book, which, again, I recommend highly. Out of all the crime novels I read in the course of a given year, this one really stuck with me, and I think it’ll have the same effect on you.

• • •

Nick Kolakowski: You not only nail the lingo and details of a murder investigation, but you really get into your lead cops’ heads, how they notice things and move through the world. What did you do to prep for the book, research-wise?

Marie S. Crosswell: I think I did less research than you may imagine I did. What I remember researching the most is actually the historical femicide crisis in Juarez, which I mention in the book. Strangely enough, the situation gets hardly any airtime in the story, but that’s the topic I remember most, regarding research. I first learned of the murdered and missing women of Juarez when I was 17 years old and took a summer writing class at a local community college. The professor, Stella Duarte, mentioned it because she wrote her own book all about it. That crisis stuck with me, and even though Texas, Hold Your Queens isn’t about a woman killed in Juarez, it’s somewhat inspired by the women who have been murdered and disappeared there. The female victim in my book came from Juarez, and Mason and Farrah, the detective protagonists, imagine that she crossed the border to escape the dangerous environment of her city—which makes it all the more devastating to them that she got killed on U.S. soil.

Anyway, I did do some research about El Paso CID and the prison in New Mexico where the villain served a sentence for his previous crimes. This wasn’t my first time writing about homicide detectives, so as far as getting into Mason and Farrah’s heads, I think a lot of that was already there in my creative consciousness. I do watch and read a lot of crime/police procedural stories, which must inform my own storytelling.

NK: Your narrative really plays with time at moments. It’s incredible how you use chapter breaks, and jumping back and forth through the narrative, to build momentum and suspense. Are you a writer who outlines beforehand, or do you write and then re-write until the narrative assumes its final shape?

MC: I’m an outliner. Usually, I start out making notes on the basic events of the story and who my characters are. Then, I usually write out what happens in each scene with enough detail to know where I’m going. Each scene gets a short paragraph in the outline.

I’ve never written a story that has a non-linear time structure, other than this one, so it was an experiment for me. I think it turned out well—although I got a few comments from people I know who read the book, about not immediately realizing they had to pay attention to the dates at the start of each chapter—and I’ll probably use the format again.

NK: It seems like a lot of crime thrillers these days focus on criminality along the southern border. Whereas a lot of those books try to go large and make a geo-political comment, you seem much more focused on inner topics such as love and trauma and the righteousness (or unrighteousness) of payback. Where did the original seed of an idea for the book come from? Is the final book very different from your idea of it at the beginning?

MC: This might surprise you, but I haven’t actually read any border crime fiction, so I didn’t know one way or the other how other crime novels set on the border handle the setting. I chose to set the story in El Paso for two reasons: first, because of the background inspiration of Juarez’s murdered women (Juarez is right next to El Paso, separated by the border fence), and second, because I like to stay in the American West with my fiction. I’m not particularly interested in Mexican crime that crosses over into the States or traffics back and forth across the border, although I’m fully aware of it and how it’s an obvious theme for crime fiction set in border states and towns. I just had this idea of a Mexican woman who crosses into the U.S. to escape the violence and danger of her homeland, and ends up dead at the hands of a white American guy.

Yes, you can look at it through the lens of U.S./Mexican relations, illegal immigration, the highly politicized fight in the U.S. over border security, etc.—but I wrote the story and tend to look at it through the lens of global male violence against women, which is never discussed by any political party in any country. And the thing is, violence against women has no political party. Men everywhere commit it, regardless of how they vote or what ideology they subscribe to. That’s the big-picture politics I’m interested in, if any.

I didn’t think of this consciously when I wrote the book, but it’s in my nature as a writer to tell tightly focused, personal stories, even and perhaps especially when the characters are dealing with violence and crime that happens on a larger scale. At the end of the day, violence and crime happen to individual human beings whose immediate experience of the trauma and horror is completely personal, even if it’s symptomatic of a politics or an event or a war that is much bigger than them. Farrah and Mason exemplify this in the book, and the reason they get into trouble is because they make the murder of one woman personal. They don’t see her as a statistic in a bigger picture of male violence or murder in America or even in their own careers as homicide detectives. They take her death personally, which you aren’t really supposed to do as a cop, and consequently, they don’t act with professional detachment. Unbeknownst to her, the murder victim’s death ends up radically affecting the lives and relationships of these two women she never met. Which is to say, that even violence taking place in the context of a greater event has small-scale consequences for the people involved, consequences that are easy to overlook when you stay focused on the big political picture.

Love is always at heart of my fiction, even though I usually write in the crime genre. I’ve got the same pattern as a writer that I do as a reader and film consumer: I come for the action, but I stay for the love between two characters, usually a friendship. I think the central love in any of my stories balances out the crime; if there’s no love, no tenderness, in a story full of violence, then ultimately there’s no joy in writing or reading it. There has to be something good to give you relief from the nastiness and the pain, especially in stories that end without a perfect “happily ever after/goodness prevails” resolution.

It’s been a few years now, but if I recall correctly, the seed of this story might’ve actually been planted by Season 1 of “True Detective.” I’m a big fan. My book doesn’t really have any similarities to it, beyond belonging to the crime/police procedural genre(s) and following a pair of detectives, but hey, I’m sure you know that inspiration for a story can come from just about anything.

NK: Revenge, or at least the attempt to balance accounts through blood, seems like a thread that runs both through this book and your recent short story, “Tinder,” which appeared in Tough magazine. What draws you to it as a narrative device?

MC: Vengeance has been a theme in my crime fiction since I started writing it, and I’m not entirely sure why. I think the theme goes hand-in-hand with another one that’s prominent in Texas, Hold Your Queens, which is the inadequacy of the legal system when it comes to punishing violent crime. Sometimes, that inadequacy looks like a guilty man getting away with what he did or being under-sentenced, but even a lengthy prison sentence or the death penalty (which these days, means several years of life in prison prior to execution, anyway) can feel inadequate when the man in question has done something beyond the pale.

I could go deeper and say that my crime fiction questions (and ultimately dismisses) the idea that prison or even state execution are sufficient punishment for maliciously violent criminals, and that there is no such thing as justice for victims of rape or malicious murder. What are we even talking about when we use the word “justice”? Why does the state get to decide what that looks like, instead of the victim of the crime or the victim’s loved ones? Realistically, what satisfaction is there for them, in seeing a rapist or a malicious murderer go to prison? Why should a man who destroys someone else’s life or spirit get to live the rest of his life and enjoy physical safety to boot, and can we really call that justice? These are questions that my crime fiction wrestles with, sometimes below the surface.

The desire for revenge is a primitive human urge, part of the non-rational, animalistic brain. A quest for vengeance is one of the oldest themes in human story-telling, one that we never tire of. It’s cathartic for us as readers or audience members to see someone get their revenge; there’s a profound sense of the wrong having been righted or the scales being balanced, that I don’t think we feel in response to a criminal being convicted in a court. And I guess that there is a catharsis for me as a writer, telling stories about people who get their revenge, stories where “justice” is an eye for an eye.

In reality, the majority of bad men get away with their evildoing; the world isn’t fair or just. I think that’s one reason so many people, especially women, fall back on patriarchal religion and the notion of Hell. We all want the bad guy to get what’s coming to him, whether in this life or after death. Writing stories like Texas, Hold Your Queens, I get to make that happen. Maybe that’s why revenge is a recurring theme in my work. These days, I find wrongs in the world I wish I could vindicate on a daily basis.

NK: All laws in the country are rescinded for one week. What do you do?

MC: Round up a bunch of like-minded women, take possession of some serious firepower, and kill as many rapists and bad men as possible.

• • •

Buy Texas, Hold Your Queens today in print or digital from Amazon today.


From the Hip – Nick Kolakowski

Hola Honeys!

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

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

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

On to the ranting!

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

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

NICK: Sweet.

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

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

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

Because why shouldn’t a severed finger be hilarious?

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

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

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

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

Anyway…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But noir captures that idiocy and horror.

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

And those stories are so much interesting!

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

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

But most people aren’t Michael Mann.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Richard Thomas and a Gamut of possibilities

gamutcover

When I think of dedication, hard work—any and all attributes I aspire to as a writer, editor and publisher—I think of Richard Thomas. That maybe a lot of praise to place on Richard’s shoulders, but having seen his work ethic on display over the last half decade I can’t think of a harder working and talented individual. And the company he keeps is a testament to his dedication to the genre and the writers he has worked.

This month launched a very important Kickstarter, one that is both ambitious and necessary. Gamut Magazine promises to be a diverse online marketplace boasting professional rates and opportunities to be published alongside some of the industry’s top talents.

At this point the Gamut Kickstarter is closing the gap on its $52k goal with just over 2 days to go. Richard and I talked about Gamut, and why it is important for this Kickstart to succeed.

If you look up the meaning of gamut in the dictionary it is defined as the complete range or scope of something. What does gamut mean to you and what is its significance to your project?

When I think about the fiction that I like to write, the stories and novels I like to read, the authors I have published, it’s a wide range of fiction. But typically I am drawn to dark, tragic work, so as far as Gamut, we’ll be focusing on dark fiction, in all of its many flavors. Even with horror there is quiet horror, and splatterpunk, and psychological, and classic. It’s important to me that we broaden our scope, at Gamut. I’m looking for a wider range of stories and perspectives. We’re 60% women, for example, and have authors from all over the world. I love to see new mythologies, new cultures, and new histories. I like to be surprised, so don’t expect to see the same plots, the same creatures, the same tropes.

On the Gamut Kickstarter page you suggest that to understand the aesthetics of the magazine, one only needs to be familiar with your work as an editor and writer. For those not familiar with Richard Thomas tell us about your past works?

Well, I’ve written three novels, the last two for Random House Alibi, the Windy City Dark Mystery series. Disintegration is Falling Down meets Dexter, and Breaker is a mix of Leon: The Professional, Of Mice and Men, The Green Mile and To Kill a Mockingbird. I tend to write neo-noir, transgressive fiction. I also have three short story collections, the latest, Tribulations, out in March with Crystal Lake. My last big story placement was in Cemetery Dance magazine, and I have short fiction appearing in the anthologies Chiral Mad 3 and Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories alongside Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker and Jack Ketchum.

As an editor, I’ve put together four anthologies—The New Black and Exigencies (the latter getting a story, “Wilderness” by Letitia Trent into the Best Horror of the Year anthology), both at Dark House Press; Burnt Tongues with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer, at Medallion (a finalist for the Bram Stoker award); and The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, at Black Lawrence Press.

As Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press I’ve put out six books to date, two I’ve mentioned already, as well as Echo Lake by Letitia Trent; After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones (Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award finalist); The Doors You Mark Are Your Own by Okla Elliott and Raul Clement; and Vile Men by Rebecca Jones-Howe. Out this year we have novels by Damien Angelica Walters and Steve Himmer.

So that really covers a wide range (a GAMUT!) of fiction including fantasy, science fiction, horror, crime, neo-noir, magical realism, transgressive, Southern gothic, and literary fiction.

That is definitely a GAMUT of fiction. Will Gamut just be a fiction magazine? Or will there be other opportunities to contribute?

We will have new fiction every week, and a reprint every week. I hope to also do flash fiction. As far as other work, yes, we’ll have columns—three are set up now for Keith Rawson, Max Booth and RK Arceneaux. We’ll also do non-fiction essays, poetry, and maybe even a Saturday Night Special serialization. And there will be original artwork with every story.

Once the campaign is done, do you plan on submission cycles or continuously open submissions?

Well, I’ve already got 40 authors involved, as far as solicitations. Not ALL will have original work for me, but most will. So let’s just say I have about 36 weeks set. That leaves the rest of the 2017 to fill out. So, yes, we will open up to submissions later in 2016. Most likely we’ll use the lower Submittable package, which caps at 300 submissions a month. That will include fiction, poetry, non-fiction, etc. That’s why I have three fiction editors and two poetry editors, to help with that. My fiction editors—Mercedes M. Yardley, Dino Parenti, and Casey Frechette will be my first readers. I’ll still solicit now and then, I’m sure. And people will probably approach me as well, but most work will come through the front door. Anything with three yes votes will be forwarded to me with a highlighted status. Two yes votes, also forwarded to me, but not as urgently. One yes vote is probably a rejection, unless the one yes vote is adamant that I see it, then I’ll take a look. Three no votes and I probably won’t even see it. I trust my editors, they understand my aesthetic, but ultimately it’ll be my call. If we feel that we’re getting too many stories to process in a timely manner, then we’ll close the door and maybe do every other month. Whatever we do, I’m excited to work with the authors I know, and stoked to discover new voices as well. I mean, I could take a weird western and then an edgy literary story and then a dark fantasy and then a gritty neo-noir. You never know.

Gamut isn’t the first magazine to vie for a successful Kickstarter. What sets Gamut apart from the others?

Well, first of all, we’ll pay ten cents a word, which is different. Very few places pay that rate, especially with speculative fiction. We’re also focusing on that sweet spot between genre and lit, that hybrid-blending, genre-bending fiction. We’re not going to have “issues” per se, just new content every week, hopefully, every day if we can raise enough funds. We’re including original art with every story, and we’ll also have columns, reprints, poetry, non-fiction and maybe even a serialization. We’re also looking into eBooks and digital downloads, interacting with local theaters to showcase films that fit the Gamut vibe, a Best of Gamut print anthology, and some other services and swag. Only time will tell.

Only time, which starts at the end of the Gamut Kickstarter at 11 pm March 1st.

Should the Kickstarter succeed, and with your help it is guaranteed to hit its $52,000 goal, the first issue will launch January 2017 with stories, columns and industry staples available all online for a small price of $60 a year after the current campaign is complete. It’s going to be a great magazine with tons of potential for writers and readers of neo-noir, crime, horror, transgressive and a multitude of sub-genres.

 


A Conversation with Angel Luis Colón (Do Some Damage)

By Alex Segura

Angel Luis Colón is a writer’s writer – he’s the guy other writers look forward to hearing read at Noir at the Bar and an all-around good guy. He’s also fun to banter with on Twitter. I’m psyched he agreed to let me grill him for a bit here.

Angel’s novella, The Fury of Blacky Jaguar, is an insane, noir, high-octane, nonstop read featuring a memorable and entertaining protagonist in Blacky. Don’t wait to read the rest of this – you can pre-order the book now, courtesy of the One Eye Press team. When not writing like mad, Angel also seems to find the time to review mystery/crime for My Bookish Ways and edit flash crime fiction at Shotgun Honey. I can’t imagine he has much free time. Thanks to Angel for carving out a few minutes to talk with me.

Elevator pitch time – what’s The Fury of Blacky Jaguar?

Blacky Jaguar is a cartoonish, narcissistic ex-IRA Provie with a hard-on for Elvis, the 50’s, and making things explode.

Someone made a really shitty call and stole his ’59 Plymouth Fury. Now he wants it back. Heads will roll.

How’d you hook up with the gang at One Eye Press? How’ve they been to work with?
One Eye Press has been killing it from the start. Federales, their first one shot by Chris Irvin grabbed me. From there; White Knight by Bracken MacLeod, The Gospel of the Bullet by Chris Leek, Knuckleball from Tom Pitts, The Gunmen by Timothy Friend – all fantastic single sitting reads from some of the best writers on the crime and western front. When I sat down and wrote The Fury of Blacky Jaguar, it was with complete intent to have that story pubbed by One Eye and nobody else.
I lucked out, huh?
As for the working relationship? Ron Earl Phillips is amazing. He’s got an eye for talent and an open ear in case I moan (which I don’t do a lot of, thankfully…hopefully). I’m so thrilled that this is a great home for Blacky and I couldn’t be happier working with a guy like Ron.

You’ve built a rep as not only a great short story writer, but someone who’s really precise when it comes to flash fiction and, for lack of a better word, presentation. I would never want to read after you at Noir at the Bar, for example. How important is that to you – being a strong short story writer?
Well, first, thanks for the compliment. That means a lot, especially from a writer I respect (it’s a love-fest!).Ahem…sorry.

Being a short story writer is incredibly important to me and I believe it should be important to any writer – beginner or pro. It’s like weightlifting or marathon training. The short circuits with the sudden bursts of speed or strength help improve conditioning for the big stuff. Flash and short fiction writing is how you work your writing muscles for the marathon sessions. They provide you with the challenge of word economy and of learning basic narrative structure. Without those skills, you’re rambling just like I am now.


I know Blacky isn’t just a one-and-done character. You have a lot of stories to tell in his world. Can you zoom out a bit and let us know why this character keeps poking at you? Maybe tease what’s in store?
He is certainly not a one and done. Matter of fact, his first appearance was in the recently released Shotgun Honey Anthology, Locked and Loaded: Both Barrels Book 3 in a story called ‘Love At First Fight’. He’s also got a role in the novel I’m working on and will be returning later this year in ‘A Very Blacky Christmas’. That story pits him against a very mean lady known as Krissy Kringle and her muscle; Krampus and Attis.
This stuff writes itself, man.
Honestly, I just love the son of a bitch. Not that I want to do anything he does, but it sure is fun to imagine it. I feel like I can get out of hand without explaining it in detail when it comes to Blacky because, for Christ’s sake, the man calls himself Blacky Jaguar.

In addition to writing, you also edit Shotgun Honey with a killer crew. While the seat isn’t warm yet, can you talk a bit about what that’s been like? Has it made you a better writer?
It’s been incredible. An absolutely vital learning experience for me. The best part about Shotgun Honey is we demand our stories be short, like, super short (700 words, kids) so it’s a manageable task to read through our submissions. What I’ve learned and been inspired from has been very instrumental in making me a more deliberate writer. I try my very best to listen to my criticism and praise of others. While, yeah, I won’t let it get in the way of the voice I’ve built for myself, there’s always room to learn.

Influences – who are yours? Can you see how they play a part in your final product?
My influences are surprisingly not very noir. Top of the head list: Clive Barker, Douglas Adams, Chuck Palahniuk, Ted Lewis, Hunter S. Thompson, Peter David, and Kurt Vonnegut. I’m not very conscious of the exact role they play in my final product, but I do know I do my very best to not ape them. I consider those guys to be geniuses in their own ways and they’ve influenced me even outside my writing, but I’d be terrified to ever be compared to them.

I think there’s a lot of value in promoting the work of others and I get the sense that you feel the same. How important is it for you to be part of a community of writers? Can you share some experiences in the time you’ve been part of the crime writing world that helped your career?
Dead on. We have to support each other and watch each others’ back in this business. I’m in total agreement there. I’ve been fortunate to have quite a few writers that I respect (and am genuinely a fan of)  give me an incredible amount of support and advice. It’s not only been vital in any of my successes, but also in just improving my experience within this community. I know everyone says it, but I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a scene as fostering and friendly as the crime-writing community. Though, you get what you put in, obviously.

Shifting gears – I know you like comics. I love comics, too. Who doesn’t? What have you been reading? What did you read starting out? And which character would you kill to write?
 
I’m so behind on my comics, but Secret Wars has been pretty amazing. I JUST nabbed the first few issues of Black Hood, but haven’t had time to dive in yet.
As for my first single issue: Web of Spider-Man vol 1 Issue 8 written by David Michelinie and interiors by Geof Isherwood. The cover, by Charlie Vess, is tattooed on my left arm. The ENTIRE cover sans typography.
So needless to say, Spidey would be my dream project.

Writer, editor and reviewer – you do the reviewing part for MyBookishWays, one of my favorite book sites. How did that come about and what kind of writing muscles does that flex? Do you find it tricky to have to review the work of people you may have to interact with in another role?
Funny enough, I asked. Kristin Centorcelli (editor in chief of My Bookish Ways) tweeted a call for reviewers, so I emailed and asked if I could lend a hand. Hopefully, I’ve been a help!And yeah, it’s at times tough to switch back and forth from fiction to reviewing, but it helps me more often than not. My brain likes to be bounced around.

You know, it’s not like I haven’t felt a little worried about my reviews, especially in light of the fact that I do know some of the authors, but I try my best to keep it professional and to put as much thought as I can into any critique or praise I provide. Thankfully, corporate dayjob trained me to flip that switch easy.


Give me some tracks that would be on the soundtrack to BLACKY JAGUAR. What did you listen to while writing this book?
 
To name a few:
Attitude by Bad Brains
Rebel Without Applause by Every Time I Die
Devil’s Dance Floor by Flogging Molly
Woo Ha! Got You All In Check by Busta Rhymes
Buzz Bomb by Dead Kennedys
Lots of angry punk, hardcore, and hip hop.

In closing – name-drop a few authors you think deserve more attention and why.
I’ve got to give a big shout out to the Polis Books bench: Rob Hart, Terrence McCauley, Dave White, Patti Abbott, and that Alex Segura fella. Absolute beastly lineup of books from great writers coming out over there.
Other writers I think deserve attention: Jen Conley (my fellow Shotgunner), Chris Irvin, Bracken MacLeod, Renee Asher Pickup, Josh Stallings, Patrick DeWitt, Sara J. Henry, Thomas Pluck, and Todd Robinson (GO BUY THE HARD BOUNCE).
I also can’t leave out Brian Panowich, Paul G. Tremblay, and Chris Holm. Good lord, these guys have written some fantastic, fantastic stuff this year.Folks need to search all these writers out and consume their output, it’s good for your brain – maybe.


Meet the Editor: Bracken MacLeod

Bracken MacLeod is one of the submission editors behind BLIGHT Digest, our new quarterly dark fiction and horror magazine. He is a past contributor to Shotgun Honey, The Big Adios and Reloaded, so who better to know what it’s like to submit to One Eye Press and face the gauntlet? Read his stories (hint: the links in the previous sentence) and the wisdom of his answers.

What was your first introduction to Dark Fiction and Horror?

My earliest memory of reading dark fiction and horror was when I read Steven Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in fifth grade. I devoured that book, keeping it out way past when it was due back at the library. I asked our librarian for more like it, but this was long before Goosebumps or anything like that and she told me they didn’t have anything appropriate I could read. So instead, I asked my mother for something. She gave me a copy of Cujo. I loved the book because Tad was close to my age and we’d once had a St. Bernard. That neither one fares well in the end (am I allowed to spoil a thirty year old book?) didn’t bother me. After that I was hooked on horror (and age-inappropriate reading). I also suspect that it’s Cujo’s fault that I am not a big fan of tidy endings where everyone is A-okay.

What is the scariest real life moment you experienced?

I’ve seen and lived through a lot of scary things and more than a couple are too personal to share. I’ve been a legal observer at crime scenes, been threatened by really bad people, and have almost died more than once (from causes both external and internal). Instead of picking one, I’ll tell you instead about the scariest place I’ve ever been: Pocatello, Idaho. The last six months I lived there they arrested James Edward Wood, a serial rapist and killer who’d done unspeakable things to a local papergirl, there were official warnings of a homeless man stabbing people who refused to give him money, and an armed, day-long stand-off in the bank across the parking lot from my apartment. That doesn’t count living above the guy who’d strangled, bludgeoned, ran over, and then burned his girlfriend one afternoon, or the various people I knew who were “randomly” attacked in years prior. It was the scariest place I’ve ever been and I’ve lived in both Imperial Beach, California back when it was still known as “Whiskey Flats” and New Haven, Connecticut. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of really great people in Pocatello, but the ones who aren’t nice don’t play around. You want to know why I set my first novel in Idaho? Look at the crime blotter.

Stephen King or Robert McCammon?

McCammon. Although I’ve read more King solely by virtue of him being more prolific, and despite my formative experience detailed above, I prefer McCammon’s style. The Wolf’s Hour remains my favorite of his.

What are five books that have most influenced you as a writer, any genre?

  • Strega by Andrew Vachss — This is the book that got me interested in crime, noir and hardboiled when I was a teenager. As a writer, it’s my go-to for remembering how to write a protagonist who isn’t above his or her antagonist. As Vachss would say, an angel is a lousy tour guide through Hell.
  • The Damnation Game by Clive Barker — TDG was a game changer for me in terms of dark sensuality in fiction. Reading Barker’s work was the first time I connected with real body horror in literature. When I want to write something that is close and imbued with bodily terror, this is where I go for inspiration.
  • Closing Time and Other Stories by Jack Ketchum — Specifically the titular novella in this collection is what moves me. Ketchum does profound feeling like few other writers I know. Whatever it is you should be feeling in a story–horror, revulsion, longing, regret–he can make you feel it in spades. If you don’t believe me, just try to read Closing Time and not be left feeling like you’ve lost something you can’t live without. I dare you.
  • The Plague by Albert Camus — If you’ve ever wanted to understand how symbolism works in fiction, read The Plague. The citizens of Oran exemplify isolation, solidarity, and resistance in the face of cosmic indifference and the absurdity of existence. This is scarier than any tentacled monster Lovecraft could imagine. When I’m trying to work out theme in my writing, Camus is my teacher, The Plague is the preacher!
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy — this is the book that taught me how to really write horror. Take good people, do horrible things to them. But not just that. You can’t be content saying that these are good people. You have to really show it, in this case by making them the last two people in the world dedicated to preserving goodness and love by keeping the other alive and on the right path. Now put them in constant peril of losing each other and their way. That’s how you write horror. The reader shouldn’t just want them to persevere–they should need those characters to prevail, need it right down to the core of their being because the alternative means the literal end of everything.

What are you looking for in a good horror story?

More important than coming up with the clever idea, the monster, apocalypse, or possession, make me feel something. It can be scared, it can be sad, it can be despairing, but it better be something that’s twisting my guts up. Honestly, if your story doesn’t scare you, you have no chance of doing that to me. See what I say above about Closing Time and The Road.


Meet the Editor: Jan Kozlowski

Jan Kozlowski is one of the submission editors behind BLIGHT Digest, our new quarterly dark fiction and horror magazine. We’ve asked her five questions for you to get to know her a bit more. If your interested in passing the gauntlet to publication in BLIGHT Digest, you might find the keys to passage within her answers.

What was your first introduction to Dark Fiction and Horror?

My childhood sucked in most ways, but the one positive thing I can say for my parents is they really didn’t care what I read, as long as I was reading. Being a smart kid, I figured out pretty early on that disappearing into books was the closest I could get to physical escape, so I read omnivorously. I haunted the tall, squeaky, metal bookracks at the local grocery & department stores and since paperbacks were usually under a buck I could talk my mother into slipping one or two into the cart. One day in 1975 one of those books featured an etched black cover with a single drop of red blood on it. It had a weird title, ‘Salem’s Lot with the extra apostrophe and was by some guy from Maine named King. That was it, I was hooked.

 What is the scariest real life moment you experienced?

Hmmm…tough to pick just one. Dad was an abusive SOB who liked to play with guns, so the 17 years I spent at home were pretty much one long fright fest. Then there was my urban EMS career, which consisted of 12-hour over night shifts that often went from grinding tedium to sheer terror in 3 seconds flat. I’ve been shot at, had too many knives pulled on me to remember and could count on being assaulted on a regular monthly basis by a 300lb drug addict who liked to direct traffic naked. And then there are those normal white knuckle life moments like getting married, buying a home, losing loved ones and, most recently, becoming a post menopausal woman in a pubescent obsessed world.

To paraphrase The Princess Bride’s Man in Black- Life IS fear Highness, anyone who says differently is selling something.

Stephen King or Robert McCammon?

As far as novels go, I will not choose and you can’t make me. For short stories Night Shift by King, hands down. I will ALWAYS love Grey Matter and count it as one of the creepiest stories I’ve ever read.

What are five books that have most influenced you as a writer, any genre?

The books that have made me say, “Damn, I want to be able to write like that one day” are, in no particular order:

My top 5 books about writing, also in no particular order:

What are you looking for in a good horror story?

Like every fiction editor, I’m looking for a compelling plot, memorable characters and a satisfying ending, but beyond those things, I want to be transported. I want to be sucked into your story so completely that when I finally close your story file and look at the readout on my treadmill desk I am shocked to find out that minutes and miles have passed while I was immersed in your world.


Interview: Todd Robinson

robinson

When I first came into this crazy crime addled community I scoped out the alpha dogs, the guys running the show. There weren’t any bigger than Big Daddy Thug, Todd Robinson, founder of THUGLIT and launcher of more than one career. Looking at his magazine, I decided at the moment I was going to be part of that action. As soon as I made that decision, Todd put the magazine on hiatus to focus on what he does best, write. The magazine is back with a vengeance and Todd’s book THE HARD BOUNCE is one of my must haves for 2013 (available for pre-order). Let’s just hope the Mayans were wrong.

So, are we ready for some Thug?

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

I was about 24 years old and working the door at Boston’s legendary Rathskellar in Kenmore Square when I picked up Andrew Vachss’s BLOSSOM and Elmore Leonard’s GLITZ. At the time, I was. It was the first fiction that I’d read where the characters spoke to the world I lived in, that reflected the nature of life at street level without judgment, that accepted those character’s struggles with as much humanity. When I read those novels, my reaction was, “Hey! I know stories like these. I know people like these.” For the record (and since I’ve been asked multiple times already) The Cellar in THE HARD BOUNCE is a not-so-veiled doppelganger for The Rathskellar. Anybody who knew that scene back in the day might even recognize some of the (also not-so-thinly-veiled) characters in the novel.

Job experiences are great to pull from for writing, especially ones that put you face to face with people of all walks. Before we jump into the writing, tell us about your greatest contribution to the writing community? How did Thuglit come about?

thugpirateIn 2004, I was looking at the markets for short fiction, but couldn’t find anybody who was publishing the kind of gritty fiction that I liked to read—that I wanted to write.

By the time I was pointed at Plots With Guns, they had already stopped taking submissions. There wasn’t much of anything else

At the Toronto Bouchercon, I got into a couple of heated discussions with the long-time AARP members that held a stranglehold on the most prominent short fiction markets. They kept complaining that their sales shrank every year; I told them that their audience was dying of old age. I kept questioning them about publishing material that spoke to an audience that wasn’t of my grandmother’s sensibilities, maybe loosening their restrictions on language and sexuality—in other words, adapting for a younger market. Needless to say, they didn’t take my suggestions civilly. And neither did much of the audience, which consisted of mostly residents of what I could only assume was the same nursing home, and cozy aficionados. Basically, by the end, I was told that there was no market for edgy fiction, and if I didn’t like what they did, I should go start my own magazine. I did.

And I think the number of literary awards and accolades that THUGLIT has garnered over the last seven years, side-by-side with what they’ve achieved, speaks for itself.

Reminds me of a conversation I had with a cozy writer on the way home from the St. Louis Bouchercon, a definite generational divide. Not to rehash too much history, but a lot of readers like myself missed the Thuglit the first go around, so give us the highlight reel, the behind the scenes of becoming Big Daddy Thug.

I already had the domain name, which served as a half-assed blog. THUGLIT was my answer to Chick Lit. And a “thuglit” is also a term in the urban dictionary for “a little thug”—a tem I thought was perfect for short fiction in our vein. I just opened it up for submissions on writer forums, Craigslist, and the such. It amazed me how many writers and readers, right off the bat, were so grateful that somebody was publishing their kind of fiction. Two issues in, and we had Derringer nominations and a story in Best American Mystery. It just kinda snowballed from there.

As far as Big Daddy Thug is concerned, it started as a joke. One night at the bar, this drunken bimbo was complaining that I didn’t buy her a round. The owner of the bar, eager to move the screeching harpy away from earshot, waved an okay to me to comp her one. I found a middle ground. I told said Bimbo, that I would buy her a round if she said “Thank you, Big Daddy.” Much to my surprise, she did, resulting in a spit-take from my boss, and a free shit-brand rum-and-coke for Bimbo. Everybody wins! After that, Big Daddy became the nickname for my nasty side, and the nickname has followed me through three different bars now.

So when we started the mag, I thought it would be fun to have noir alter-egos and to have an alternate universe for the editors to play in. Over the years, the core group of our editorial knuckle-headery consisted of Lady Detroit (Allison Glasgow) and Johnny Kneecaps (John Moore); and our guest editors were Caesar Black (Robert S.P. Lee), The Pope of St. Louis (Jordan Harper), Roadhouse (Justin Porter) El Feo (Alejandro Peña), and now, we’ve just added The Blue Dahlia (Julie McCarron) to the core.

A bunch of little thugs showing what you could do. I dig. You and I have some common ground where we both entered as writers and let circumstance evolve us into more. I can’t imagine you expected to be approaching 10 years as a publisher and purveyor of other writers’ works?

I had no intention of being on this side of the desk at ALL, much less for nearly a decade. If you’ve ever enjoyed anything out of THUGLIT, you owe a strange debt of gratitude to the cozy biddies who issued a challenge to a guy that doesn’t take challenge lightly.

Are you a hat wearer? You seem to wear a few of them as publisher, writer, family man and working stiff. How do you manage that balancing act?

Like the old saying goes; “Want to know how to get something done? Ask a busy man.”

I read submissions on my subway ride to work. I’m answering this question while the kid naps (he’s three-years-old) and the wife is at school. I’m working seven bar shifts next week. When the kid goes to bed tonight, I’m designing the cover for the third issue of Thuglit and editing a story. I always feel like I’m behind on something (and I usually am). If I take any time off, even one night, I get anxiety attacks. Oh, and I told my agent that I’d have a new novel in her hands by the end of January.

I may have psychological issues…

You didn’t leave any room write? I get what you’re laying down, every scrap of time is an opportunity. All those stolen opportunities have resulted in your first novel, The Hard Bounce being released from Tyrus Books. You touched on it at the top of the interview, give us the pitch!

thehardbounceI’m a binge writer. I need larger blocks of time to write, but when I do, I fly. I recently got into a conversation with kid who was in the Creative Writing program at The New School and he was curious about my process. God bless the kid—head full of flights of fancy, but also wedged firmly in his own ass. He said that he could maybe get two or three good paragraphs out in a week. I replied that I stitched together three good hours the week before, wrote a 12 page short story, and had it placed in a magazine before the weekend was over. My personal best was 223 pages written in 8 days. I almost had to be hospitalized after, but I did it.

The Hard Bounce…man. Been ten years of rough road on that baby, but it’s finally seeing the light of day. The fucker has been with four publishers, five agents, and has seen more edits than I care to count any more. But I’ve always believed in the book and loved the characters. I still can’t believe most days that the journey with it is almost over (it comes out in January 2013). My only concern is over-hype. I mean, this book has been on some people’s radar for a decade, been so close so many times, and so many people have (God bless ’em) been waiting to see it. But you know what? Honestly? I wrote what I hope is a fresh take in a genre I love. I really hope that people love the ride and feel with the characters as deeply as I do. But I live in fear of that over-hype. I’m not a literary writer. I’m a storyteller. Some people talk to me about it like they’re expecting some ten-year opus of literature. I just want people to have fun with the read. Hope they walk away wanting more of it.

I’m terrible with “the pitch” aren’t I?

Buy the book. I’m pretty sure you’ll dig it.

I really, really suck at the pitch…

Ten years is a long road, ten years of being passed through so many hands and coming so close to publication. During any of that time did you think, I’ve got this brand, Thuglit, maybe I should just do this on my own? Especially with the changes in the marketplace in recent years?

I have considered it. The problem was, years ago, to self-publish was tantamount to career suicide. You couldn’t get reviewed, you couldn’t get in bookstores. Most products that came out of print-on-demand publishers was shoddy. Kindle and E-books were in their infancies and didn’t have the market share that they’ve achieved in only the last three or four years.

Another issue with self-publication is promotion. And when I say promotion—let’s face it—we’re talking money here. If you look at the numbers, a very, very, low percentile of self-published authors reach any kind of success. And those that do, have either invested immense amounts of money in their promotions, or have benefited from publishing the traditional route first—benefited previously from having the stamp of “legitimacy” awarded to their work and had their names churned in front of audiences through the marketing machines of the industry. It really pisses me off to see these “self-publishing gurus”, who have had thousands of dollars spent on publicity by their previous publishers, shit on writers who want the same benefits that the “gurus” enjoyed by starting out on the traditional route—also with editors who helped them refine their craft over the years. Then these fuckwits walk around like they’re self-made and did it all themselves, and everyone else is a pack of idiots for attempting to do it the way THEY did. Pisses me off even more to see their acolytes blindly cheer these egomaniacal jerkoffs on by buying into their bullshit. And I don’t know if anybody else has noticed, but a HUGE number of these loudmouthed “successful” self-published authors jump onto the next “legitimate” publisher that sails by when the opportunity arises. That should say something right there about the problems with doing it yourself.

I still believe that an institutional stigma exists against self-published works, it’s just not as severe. Hell, I have prejudices against self-published work. When I tell people that my novel is coming out, their first question is, “Who’s publishing it?” Most of these people asking the question don’t know Random House from Full House. They just want to know whether it’s self-published or not, since I’m sure that the majority of the time they ask the question nowadays, the answer is going to be “self-published.” Comparably, I self-published a collection of short stories earlier this year, and when I tell people that it’s self-published, I can almost hear the muscles straining under their eyelids as they fight the urge to roll their eyes. The eyes roll a little less when I rattle off the magazines that previously published the stories. The problem is this—when you’re a writer thinking about self-publishing, your opinion is not enough. It really isn’t. While it’s nice to enjoy a self-actualized sense of quality in your writing…you WROTE the fucking thing. If you get an entire industry telling you that something is not up to par in your work, you might want to pay attention, try another angle. A real problem with the relative ease and product quality of the self-published market is that so many of the books writing-wise just aren’t that fucking good. I like to think that the last ten years have taught me a lot, both by giving me room to grow as a writer AND to implement that in my novel as I went along. Looking at the earliest drafts of my novel, I want to fucking puke—and it was almost published. If it had been, either by myself or someone else, it would be in that state forever. NOW, will I look back at The Hard Bounce in another decade and want to puke? I sure hope so. I hope I continue to learn and grow in the craft to that point until every decade makes me want to projectile vomit all over my prior work.

If you want to be a writer…a real writer…then you should learn something from every rejection you receive, try to grow, rather than stomp your feet and just publish it yourself. Being a writer is a fuckload more than just being published.

Are there any new voices come up through Thuglit or other short story venues readers should keep an eye on? Some rising stars?

There are other short story venues???

With the THUGLIT reboot only two issues in, it’s too small a sample size to really determine who’s a rising star just yet. We’ve already published a couple of tales from powerhouse regulars such as Jason Duke, Matt Funk, Mike Wilkerson, Katherine Tomlinson and Pat Lambe. Any one of them could blow up at any time.

Jordan Harper, Hilary Davidson and Mike MacLean and Johnny Shaw are already superstars in their own right, so they get a DQ from “rising star” status.

Justin Porter, whom we’ve published multiple times over the years, just sent off his first novel— which I’m willing to throw money on as being something to watch out for.

But the name that’s already setting off my radar is Terrence McCauley. The guy has submitted only two stories and he’s already got two stories accepted. Even though there’s crossover within the narratives, each story reads at such different emotional/perspective levels that I was legitimately surprised when I realized that both stories were written by the same person. That punk can write his ass off.

Thank you for taking time with us, can you give us, our readers, any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

Tell your story. That’s it. Just tell your story.