Shotgun Honey Joins Down & Out Books

Today Shotgun Honey is thrilled to announce a new partnership with Eric Campbell and Down & Out Books (downandoutbooks.com), an independent publisher of literary  and crime fiction. Shotgun Honey joins the Tampa, FL based company as a new imprint focused primarily on short length crime fiction: collected short stories, novellas and short length novels.

Shotgun Honey has a history of bringing quality flash crime fiction to the web, and in 2013  the online magazine expanded slowly into print and digital publishing under the One Eye Press masthead. We believe our books have been well produced and well received, but our lack of marketing and reach have limited our full potential. The experience that Down & Out Books brings is invaluable and will be a tremendous asset to the Shotgun Honey Imprint, not to mention the additional production resources.

In February 2017, Hardway by Hector Acosta will be the first release under the new imprint, with 6 additional books scheduled for 2017. Among those are The Place of Refuge by Albert Tucher, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski, and Blacky Jaguar Against to Cool Clux Cult by Angel Luis Colón.

Aside from the new releases, the majority of our previous publications will be released as second editions under the new imprint, with some including expanded content and new covers. This will mean that these books will be temporarily unavailable until their new releases are complete as all current One Eye Press releases will become unavailable as of January 1, 2017.

Shotgun Honey is looking forward to 2017 and working with our new partner Down & Out Books, as well as our sister imprint ABC Group Documentation headed by Jeremy Stabile.

For more information about the company and its books, or to request an interview with the Eric Campbell or Ron Earl Phillips, contact [email protected].


The Fine Art of Killing Your Darlings

STTKM NK Cover

“All writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.”

– Martin Amis, “The War Against Cliché”

Some things take a few minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master. Games like chess, for instance, or knocking off a bank and getting away with it. Flash fiction also falls into this category: sure, a lot of people can type out 500-700 words, but stitching (and cutting) that mass of verbiage into an effective story takes a lot of skill and practice.

The great thing about a Website like Shotgun Honey is how it gives the crime-fiction writers of the world a no-bullshit platform for their best short work. Just a handful of venues these days seem to offer that kind of opportunity: Out of the Gutter is also going strong, along with The Molotov Cocktail and a handful of others. Every week, these sites offer a collection of short hits, quick enough to get you through your next bus-ride or waiting room sojourn. I always like a bit of literary murder and mayhem right before the dentist drills my teeth; it really puts my minor pain in proper perspective.

And every week, the editors behind those sites need to weed through a ton of stories in order to find the roses. What differentiates the stories that make it? They tend to push back hard against the clichés of the genre, offering a new and startling take on old, dusty tropes.

Fortunately, a crime cliché is easy to pick out of the lineup. Italian mobsters who speak in exaggerated New Jersey dialect? It was old long before Francis Ford Coppola shot the first frame of the Godfather trilogy. Serial killers with cute nicknames who work as cops by day? Snore. Femme fatales who plug their loving men in the back and walk away with the cash? You’ve seen it too many times to count.

A twist on a tired trope, on the other hand, is pure gold, especially if it comes with an unexpected ending. For example, take a look at “Getting the Word Back,” a story by fellow Shotgun Honey editor Angel Luis Colón. What starts as a standard-issue liquor-store robbery quickly evolves into something far weirder—and, in the end, about twice as vicious as you were expecting.

With my own flash fiction, I’ve tried to subvert clichés whenever possible. Take my story “Special Delivery”: while a lot of hardboiled tales focus on people trying to bust out of prison, I wanted to write something in which an anti-hero had to break in. I took a fair bit of inspiration from last summer’s infamous breakout at Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, in which a pair of prisoners figured out a way past the prison walls via underground tunnels,Shawshank Redemption-style.

When it came time to collect the stories for my new noir-fiction collection, Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me, I realized that, in many ways, the flash fiction had been harder to write than some of the longer pieces. With a “full sized” short story or novella, you have the space to build an entire world; with flash fiction, you must telegraph a lot of information in as few words as possible. (The best flash is also self-contained: contrary to what some writers think, snipping a fragment from a longer narrative and presenting it unedited as a short-short story is often an ineffective technique if you want to be published.)

In the end, I alternated the collection’s longer pieces with flash fiction, creating a “long-short-long” rhythm that hopefully keeps readers engaged all the way through. Check out Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me and let me know if you think it works.

And in the meantime, if you’re writing flash fiction, remember to kill your darlings as ruthlessly as possible. Your red editing pen (literal or metaphoric) makes for a fine murder tool.


Whoops

The SWAT cop kicked in the front door of the crack shack, and Ricky followed him inside, scattergun pumped and ready to fill the air with an unhealthy amount of lead. The cop behind them shouted something about arrest warrants, but Ricky had no intention of arresting anyone today, especially if the ‘anyone’ happened to be Ivan, his ex-partner in a recent entrepreneurial venture.

The column of SWAT ants headed left, into the seedy living room with the brownish curtains, while Ricky veered right, through the kitchen piled high with soggy paper plates and crusted pots. Past the kitchen, a short hallway, and the bedroom beyond—Ricky’s finger whispering on the trigger. When the shadow darted into the bedroom doorway, he almost blasted it to shreds, stopped before the last quarter-pound of pressure by a familiar face—two familiar faces, in fact, one barely visible behind the other.


Special Delivery

Most clients ask me for pills, or a phone, or some weird porno they can’t score from anyone inside. One crazy bastard even paid for a trained mouse, so he could send messages and weed between cells. But Fast Times Ricky asked me for a one-of-a-kind item: Respect.

I once spent eight hundred and ninety-two days inside Rikers, so I understand it gets lonely in max. I know it’s hard when you’re a king on the boulevard, but just another meat-bag when that cell door slides shut. Because I can put myself in the client’s shoes, I’m very good at customer service. But I still told Ricky he was crazy, until he said how much he was willing to pay, cash, through his father. So I took the job.

Ricky’s version of Respect fit into the false bottom of the guitar case I use for my cover gig. That Monday night, I reached the post-industrial armpit of South Dickinson at a quarter of seven, parking my van in the dirt lot three blocks from the roach motel of a bar where I was scheduled to play my set. I looked every inch the traveling hipster musician: chunky black glasses, faded Captain America t-shirt beneath a brown corduroy blazer, obnoxious neon-green sneakers. I played fifteen songs and only one drunk threw an empty glass at me, which counted as a success.

In the van afterwards, I chucked the costume for my real work outfit: a Hazmat suit spray-painted black, rubber boots, surgical mask, headlamp, a crowbar and other tools, and Respect in a waterproof bag. Walking to the edge of the lot, beyond the sickly glow of the streetlamps, I pried up the cover of the storm drain and wormed my way underground.

Dickinson State Prison was built during the Civil War, to host Confederate prisoners, and grew like a concrete-and-iron cancer down the sides of the hill above town. During prep work a few weeks back, I had cut a hole in the sewer pipe that runs beneath the outer wall, big enough for a slim guy like me to slither into the maintenance area behind the cells. Once through, it took me ten minutes to crawl up the catwalks to Ricky’s level.

Lying on my stomach, I peered through the small grate into Ricky’s cell. He was already waiting for me, his face pressed against the heavy mesh. “Smelled you coming,” he hissed.

There was just enough light from the cellblock to see the bruises on his cheeks, his left eye swelling shut. “Give me a break,” I said. “I just crawled through two hundred yards of crap. You ready?”

“Like you wouldn’t believe.” He raised a bandaged hand. “I won’t make it another month.”

I took Respect out of its bag, began stripping it to pieces. “You know this won’t solve your problems.”

“You’re wrong. You know the Sandman?”

I nodded. The Sandman had turned two generations of New Yorkers into heroin addicts, including yours truly. Now he resided inside Dickinson on a lifetime bid. I once delivered him some hardcover books, which make good body armor, because business is business.

“Sandman been beefing with my old man for years,” Ricky said. “Nobody can get close, he got too much protection in here.”

“You want to die?”

He shrugged. “Not leaving here anyway. Might as well go out a legend.”

I fished a pair of pliers out of my pocket and pried a hole in the grate, big enough to fit pieces of Respect into Ricky’s waiting hands. He reassembled the pistol with a speed that would have made a Marine proud. “Bullets?” he asked.

I passed them through, one at a time.

“Can you take a message?”

I nodded.

“Tell my old man I didn’t mean to talk.”

“Sure thing,” I said, retreating.

I figured I had a few hours to get out of town before Ricky held court with the Sandman. Sooner or later, the guards would discover how the weapon came in, but that was okay. It was a big country, with lots of prisons, filled with people who knew how to reach out when they needed a special delivery.


A Hole for Two

By late January, even the most powerful, take-no-shit chainsaw you can buy at the last minute from the Home Depot has trouble chewing through the thick ice of Lake Michigan. Joey, working hard to cut a precise circle, craved a cigarette. Blah-blah lung cancer blah-blah, but at least a lungful of smoke would relax him a little. Lord knows, the seven guys standing around him, toting pistols and pissed-off expressions, weren’t doing a whole lot for his peace of mind. Nor was the bruised, bloody chump tied up on the ice beside the hole, for that matter.

You’d think the chump would’ve been scared, watching someone carve him a personal swimming hole in a frozen lake, but no: He just kept smiling in a creepy way that made Joey want to smoke a whole pack.

Powering down the chainsaw, Joey walked over to his cousin Bob, who was in charge until the Boss showed up. “You got a smoke?” Joey asked.

“Nah, I quit.” From his parka, Bob drew a box of nicotine gum. “Try one of these. They taste like crap, but they give you a buzz.”

Joey chewed one up as they regarded the jagged hole in the ice. “Fantastic job,” Bob said. “You’re a real Michelangelo with the chainsaw.”

“Really?” It seemed like Bob never said anything nice to him.

Bob clapped him on the shoulder. “You kidding me? My five-year-old could draw a better circle, and he’s got some sort of learning difficulty.”

Joey thought about hitting him. Joey hit a lot of folks, mostly slaps but sometimes with fists, because it made him feel good in ways that talking did not. Joey’s high-school guidance counselor once said he had a rage problem, right before Joey punched him in the mouth. But Bob was a guy you couldn’t hit, because Bob did things like help drown people in frozen lakes. Instead Joey pointed at the chump and asked: “What’d he do?”

“He stole a ton of money from the Boss.” Bob laughed. “What else would an accountant do?”

A car honked, and they turned to see a bright red SUV creeping toward them across the ice at a stately pace. The Boss never walked if he didn’t want to.

“Is that safe?” Joey asked, half-expecting to see that gaudy tank plunge through the ice at any moment.

Bob shrugged. “Guy like that, you can’t not make an entrance, you know?”

The SUV pulled around in a wide arc and grumbled to a halt, facing the thin gray line of the shore. The rear door opened, and the Boss climbed out, dressed for success in a fur cloak that looked like something Henry the Eighth would have worn. It finally occurred to Joey, three weeks after asking his cousin for a job with his crew, that the Boss was a complete lunatic.

The Boss scanned his men before shifting his gaze to the chump on the ice. The chump smiled back.

“Who cut that hole?” the Boss asked.

Six fingers pointed at Joey.

The Boss smirked. “What, your dainty little hands never lifted a chainsaw before?”

Someone laughed. Joey, his face reddening, realized it was the chump.

Stepping forward, the Boss drove a patent-leather ankle-boot into the chump’s ribs, asking: “Did this piece of shit give up his account password?”

Later on, Joey would swear he saw Bob nod in response. It was hard to remember, because at that moment his guts seemed on fire, so pure was the rage flooding through him. Before he could stop himself, Joey placed a boot against the chump’s spine and pushed as hard as he could, sending the miserable chuckling bastard into the hole with a slushy splash.

In the half-second before his body disappeared into the depths, the chump locked eyes with Joey and winked, as if he wanted things this way. Then the lake swallowed him whole.

The Boss appeared nonplussed.

Bob swallowed hard. “I think…”

One look at Bob’s face, and Joey’s flowering rage withered into pure fear.

“What?” the Boss asked, his expression as cold as the ice.

“The password, I think…” Bob spoke very slowly. “I think… it was tattooed on his arm.”


Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded

Today we launch the third volume of the Both Barrels series with Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded.

Featuring 25 stories by:

  • “A Boy Like Billy” by Patricia Abbott
  • “Border Crossing” by Michael McGlade
  • “Looking for the Death Trick” by Bracken MacLeod
  • “Maybelle’s Last Stand” by Travis Richardson
  • “Predators” by Marie S. Crosswell
  • “Twenty to Life” by Frank Byrns
  • “So Much Love” by Keith Rawson
  • “Running Late” by Tess Makovesky
  • “Last Supper” by Katanie Duarte
  • “Danny” by Michael Bracken
  • “The Plot” by Jedidiah Ayres
  • “What Alva Wants” by Timothy Friend
  • “Time Enough to Kill” by Kent Gowran
  • “Copas” by Hector Acosta
  • “Yellow Car Punch” by Nigel Bird
  • “Love at First Fight” by Angel Luis Colón
  • “Traps” by Owen Laukkanen
  • “Down the Rickety Stairs” by Alan Orloff
  • “Blackmailer’s Pep Talk” by Chris Rhatigan
  • “With a Little bit of Luck” by Bill Baber
  • “As Cute as a Speckled Pup Under a Red Wagon” by Tony Conaway
  • “Chipping off the Old Block” by Nick Kolakowski
  • “Young Turks and Old Wives” by Shane Simmons
  • “The Hangover Cure” by Seth Lynch
  • “Highway Six” by John L. Thompson

Available in paperback and Kindle editions. Buy your copy today!


The Day the Clown Died

While the shootout paused so everybody could reload, Miller wondered whether the clown was still alive.

The clown had taken three shots to the chest and collapsed beside the Tilt-a-Whirl. Miller disliked the idea of civilian deaths, but at least he could tell himself it was the security guard’s fault. If the security guard had stayed on the floor of the money-counting room like a good little boy, and not decided to march after them like Wyatt Earp, the clown would still be spreading good cheer to the crowds of kids and parents. If the security guard had stayed on the floor, Miller’s partners might have waited to spring the ambush on him that he’d expected all along.

But the security guard had decided to pursue, and now Miller found himself crouching behind a dumpster as the uniformed punk knelt to shoot at him from twenty feet away. Bullets smacked the dumpster’s side with gonglike booms. From the Whack-a-Mole booth to his left, Bernard and Trent—up until two minutes ago, his partners in this little entrepreneurial endeavor—were doing their best to fill him and the security guard with a lot of lead. The clown lay in the crossfire, his oversized feet twitching in what might have been a postmortem spasm.

If he made it out of this alive, Miller vowed, he would never rob an amusement park again.

When the firing stopped, Miller reloaded his .45 automatic. Bernard had a 9mm, which was worrisome, but Trent had a pump-action shotgun that could become a real problem in a close-range fight. The screaming crowd offered Miller’s flanks a little more cover, but he preferred if a family weren’t gunned down on his account.

Sirens in the distance meant that Miller needed to end this soon. He knelt and stuck his arm with the gun under the dumpster, sighted on a khaki-clad knee, and pulled the trigger twice. The guard’s knee shattered and he fell forward onto his face. If this had been Iraq, Miller would have followed that up with a shot to the top of the kid’s head, but he wasn’t a soldier anymore.

Hoisting the duffel bag full of cash onto his shoulder, Miller turned and ran into the crowd. One of Bernard’s bullets snapped past his cheek, and he heard the boom of Trent’s shotgun. They expected him to head to the black SUV parked in the back lot, the same one they’d driven here, but Miller had other ideas. He ducked left, down the concourse with kiddie rides on either side, firing twice in the air to clear the civilians panicking in front of him, hoping that nobody with a concealed-carry permit would choose this moment to play hero. He headed for the outer fence, where he’d cut a hole a few days ago, and the green Buick parked in the weeds beyond. He was going to get away clean—but damn if he wouldn’t feel bad about that clown.


Two for Tea

Slade was six-foot-three of muscle sewn together with scar tissue, his jaw square and hard as a bulldozer shovel. His face was more deeply lined than an acre of Midwest hardpan but you would never mistake him for old or defective—not if you valued your bones unbroken, or at least your thumbs in working order. He wore a gray suit that had seen better days and a rumpled white shirt, and no tie. The little old lady across the table looked him up and down with her thick glasses, slowly, and said, “I heard you just got out of jail.”

Slade nodded. Elegant surroundings always made him a little shy. It was the first time he had ever been in a tea room, and he wondered what the other old ladies in the place thought of him, this brutal hulk with a tiny cup of Earl Gray in his massive hand. “What can I do for you?” he asked.

“Do for you, ma’am,” she corrected him.

The bulldozer jaw clenched. Under normal circumstances, Slade responded to grammatical lessons with a little correcting of his own. But this woman looked old enough to have gone steady with George Washington and that, he thought, earned certain considerations. He was not an animal, no matter what his parole officer told him. “Do for you, ma’am,” he said.

“Good.” She smiled, revealing teeth too white and perfect to be real. “Tell me why you went to prison.”

“I did a bad thing,” Slade muttered. “Some people lost their lives.” The first step toward forgiveness, his parole officer always said, was admitting your mistakes.

“You’ll have to be more specific than that,” she replied, a trace of archness in her voice. “What did you do?”

“I was driving too fast, hit another car. The two people in that car died.”

The old lady’s teacup, halfway to her thin lips, shook slightly. Tea dripped on the linen tablecloth, leaving a stain like old blood. “Why were you driving too fast?”

Slade swallowed before answering: “I robbed a bank. I was fleeing the scene. I didn’t mean to crash.”

With iron eyes the lady stared at her trembling hand until it stilled. “Do you regret what happened?”

“I do.” Slade’s fingers brushed the spot, just below his ribs, that marked an old bullet-wound. At moments like this one, when he thought about what he’d done with his life, the scar burned. “Ma’am, my friend Jack set up this meeting because he said you could use some help. So tell me: how can I help you?”

From the cloth bag on the table (a rather lovely blue flower stitched on its side), the old lady extracted a small purse, snapped it open, and removed a photograph, which she placed between them with reverence: a black-and-white portrait of a pretty girl, maybe twenty-five, with blonde hair and dark eyes like drops of ink.

“Do you recognize this woman?” the old lady asked.

Slade tilted the photograph to the light. The girl did seem familiar, but he couldn’t quite place where he’d seen her before, so he shook his head.

The old lady dipped her hand back into the bag. “She was my daughter.” The hand reappeared, gripping a small 9mm automatic. “She died fifteen years ago.”

She fired four times, hitting Slade in the chest with every round—poor eyesight or no, at this range the old lady was the second coming of Annie Oakley. Slade’s back hit the Persian rug with a thud so loud it made the crystal chandeliers tinkle and sway. The old lady rose to her feet, fetched her cane leaning against the table, and hobbled over to Slade gurgling his last. “She died when you crashed into her, you son of a bitch,” the old lady said, as she aimed the smoking pistol at his head, and fired for the last time.


How Jules Left Prison

The day they let Jules out of prison, two guards escorted him to meet the warden. The warden’s wood-paneled office was much bigger than the cell where Jules had spent the past five years of his life. The warden was a large man with a square jaw and skin tanned the color of mahogany. Jules was very pale but had spent the past one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five days lifting weights and that, combined with the crude tattoos, made him a very large and scary dude.

The warden had Jules’ file on his desk. He made a show of flipping through the papers inside, frowning at the lists of crimes and misdemeanors. He slapped it shut and said: “I have a cherry 1968 Shelby Mustang parked outside this facility, V8 engine, beautiful beast.”

Jules sat in the creaking wooden chair on the other side of the desk and said nothing. He was following the first rule of prison: stay quiet, at least until you know the score.

The warden said: “That car’s my baby. Can you guess why it’s parked outside?”

Jules shook his bullish neck: no.

“Because I earned it, Mister Jules. I came to work every day, and did my job, and collected an honest man’s paycheck.” The warden flashed his white tombstone teeth, leaning back in his plush throne. “And if you work very hard and stay out of trouble, someday you might have a car just like that. Something to ponder, Mister Jules.”

Jules nodded his massive head: yes.

The warden clapped his pillow-soft hands. “That’s settled, then. Good luck out there.” He offered a cheery wave as the guards escorted Jules out.

Down in a caged room they shook a manila envelope full of Jules’ personal effects onto the counter: two brass keys, an ancient cell phone, a pack of strip-club matches, a scuffed wallet with three crumpled dollars and an expired driver’s license, and a wedding ring. His knife was missing.

Jules slipped the keys, phone, matches, and wallet into the pockets of his leather jacket. The wedding ring he tossed into the convenient wastebasket. He let the guards walk him into the noonday firestorm and down a narrow sandy path sandwiched between tall fences. Beyond the chain-link the desert burned white and infinite, split by the black line of the highway snaking east to west.

“See you soon,” one of the guards said, and the front gate snapped open. Jules officially returned to the land of freedom, swiveling in his tracks like a lost dog. Nobody was waiting to pick him up, but that wasn’t surprising.

Already sweating in the hundred-degree heat, Jules walked along the fence and into the shadow of the prison wall. In front of him, ten rows of cars gleamed in the sunlight. He found the Mustang in a special parking space close to the entrance. It was every inch as cherry as the warden promised. The driver’s door was unlocked, the keys tucked behind the visor. Who would travel all the way out here to steal a car?

A guard on the wall shouted something as Jules roared for the highway, but that beautiful V8 engine made it hard to hear the words.