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.


Interview: John Kenyon

When you think about “Things I’d rather be doing?,” generally it’s a more personal thought. For me that’s how I was introduced to John Kenyon, whose website Things I’d Rather Be Doing acted as a gateway to all things that interest John. Part blog, part magazine, it is an introduction to John’s thinking, manner and style. Since then I’ve gotten to know John through his fiction and his publication Grift Magazine, even shared lunch with John and his interviewer, Chad Rohrbacher, along with some shop talk.

John, a former newspaper man, get’s the tables turned this week with Chad asking the questions.

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

I suppose it all dates back to my Dad and the Hardy Boys. He read them as a boy, so there were some of those iconic blue-spined books passed down when I was a kid, and I devoured those. From there it was a constant progression through to the point where I started reading mysteries as an adult. Lawrence Block was my gateway drug, leading me in all sorts of directions.

As for crime fiction vs. straight-up mysteries, I’m more interested as a writer in exploring the impact of a situation more than the situation itself. The whodunit, while still interesting, doesn’t grab me the way an exploration of the social and economic impacts of crime do.

Tell us a little about yourself. Just a little background

After 20 years in journalism, I have moved to the nonprofit world. Iowa City is a UNESCO-designated City of Literature, and I am the director of the nonprofit that manages that designation. It’s a dream job, working every day to spread the word that books matter.

Can you talk a little about your writing process: computer? Long hand? Dark corner in an office? By candle light? Coffee or whiskey?

Stories usually start out with a scribbled note about a situation, followed by couple hundred hastily banged out words the next time I can get to a computer. Then I’ll pick at it until it feels like it’s going to work. From there, it’s usually late nights working in the home office after everyone’s in bed.

So your collection, “The First Cut,” recently came out via Snubnose Press, can you tell me a little about the collection?

For the most part, The First Cut collects the best of the stories I’ve published over the past five years or so, including a couple that first appeared here at Shotgun Honey. There’s one new story that I didn’t really perfect until it was time to submit the manuscript which is new to the collection, and one decade-old story that appeared in a great regional journal here in Iowa, The Wapsipinicon Almanac.  It’s all crime fiction, save for the last, which was more a stab at literary fiction but which still has sinister overtones that I feel makes it a good fit with the rest.

Did you listen to music while you wrote any of the stories? Is so, what? Did you find them affecting your narrative?

I can’t listen to music with words while writing, so it’s a lot of jazz and instrumental stuff. White Lunar, an album of soundtrack work from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and Angelo Badalmenti’s soundtrack to “The Straight Story,” are two that I return to a lot. If I need to get hopped up, I’ll do it with something loud and fast before I sit down.

Were there any specific people, places, or incidents that inspired a story?

For some of them, yes. But in most cases, it would be something small that set my mind to wandering, and it’s the eventual mental destination that led to the story. More often my stories begin with a “what if?” proposition. What if an organ transplant guy had his vehicle break down and had to take the subway? What if a mobster’s attempt to bury a recently deceased colleague didn’t go as planned? What if someone wrongly caught up in the War on Terror decided to exact revenge? I set challenges for myself with these questions and when I have successfully answered, I know I have a story worth keeping.

Can you explore the process of putting the stories in the particular order in the final version? Did it change? If so, can you share some of the choices you made and why.

I knew from the moment that I thought of assembling a collection that I wanted to start with “Cut.” It sets a tone I wanted. It’s dark, but also funny in spots. It also was my first real success, thanks to the fine folks at Thuglit. From there, it was simply a matter of wanting the stories to flow, mixing long and short, dark and funny. I also wanted to end with “The Bluffs,” which is the oldest story in the book. It’s the most different, stylistically, and the longest, and it felt like a good closer.

In this book, there seems to be a real clear throwback to old-time pulp and the late 40s-50s radio thrillers. Do you find those as influences? If so, any in particular?

That’s the first I’ve heard that description, but I’ll take it. Really, my aesthetic is less hard-boiled than that of a lot of my peers (or the rest of the Snubnose stable), and that’s part of it. I suppose as well that it is my journalistic background. I’m used to telling the entire story, and so perhaps my plotting reflects that.

So you have a magazine? What was your thinking behind it?

As I said above, I have a different aesthetic from some people. I love the other publications that are out there, but there wasn’t one that offered exactly what I wanted. The only way to get that, I realized, was to do it myself. I wanted something that offered strong stories as well as some solid non-fiction with essays and reviews. The first issue was something I’m very proud of; replicating that has been difficult. Which leads us to…

How do you balance your editing versus writing work as I imagine both take a lot of time?

If you asked any submitter for the second issue of Grift, they would say I balance it in fairly lousy fashion. It has been a struggle. As I launched Grift with the first print issue this spring, my writing really took off. It was hard to balance the two (particularly when you add in family, job and other pursuits). It’s a matter of being mindful of the need to tackle both jobs. I have a duty to the people who took the time to contribute to Grift, but I have a duty to myself to keep working on my own stories and projects.

The website looks fantastic, so what made you want to also have a print version and not just on-line?

Thank you. I’d like to take the credit, but it’s really just a well-tweaked WordPress theme. As for having one or the other, the print mag idea came first. I wanted a web presence, and then figured it would be a good idea to have news, reviews and flash fiction there as well. That has proven more difficult to maintain than I thought, but it has been a nice way to keep the name out there during the long wait between print issues. Plus, I have had the honor of publishing some great short fiction from the likes of Matthew C. Funk, Andrew Waters, Thomas Pluck and many more.

With the your collection, The First Cut, behind you and the ongoing Grift Magazine, what’s next for you as a writer? What’s your next pitch?

My hope is that my next thing will be a novel. I have one done and edited, and now it is being read by a few friends with the hope of having it polished and ready to send out very soon. It’s a crime novel, but more funny (I hope) than hard-boiled. I’m about halfway through a second novel and have an idea for a third that would be a fairly radical departure. While I’m juggling those projects, I’m working in earnest on a contribution to the Fight Card series of novellas about boxing that should come out early next year.

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

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple — that’s creativity.” – Charles Mingus.


Interview: Heath Lowrance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Interview: Chris F. Holm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the strengths and weaknesses of print versus online…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Interview: Anthony Neil Smith

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

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

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

Legally.

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

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

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

I’m a whatsit who and when now?

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

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

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

So the displacement has evaporated.

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

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

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

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

You’re giving me ideas.

Can you tell us more about Billie Lafitte?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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