Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Unnecessary: The Making of Pelham 1-2-3 Times

Okay, in the last post we looked at adaptations that have "eclipsed" the source material to the point that none or few recall there was a previous incarnation, (usually books), but the discussion kinda led in a new direction. So now I'm wondering about sequels and remakes that have, (again for better or worse) eclipsed the original. Sometimes they're an improvement. Seriously. More often than not, they're unnecessary and occasionally disgraceful, (rearrange the order of those qualities as you see fit). A couple that come to mind - The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Evil Dead II: Dead Before Dawn, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Silence of the Lambs, The Departed and uh, Herbie Goes Bananas... Discuss. Thanks Keith Rawson, Kieran Shea and Gordon Harries for the stimulating conversation. Check out the piece Mr. Harries recently posted at The Rap Sheet about Get Carter, a film that has eclipsed the source book and been remade ingloriously on this side of the pond, it's a goodun.


Saturday, June 27, 2009


Watched High Plains Drifter again last night. This time I noticed something in the credits I hadn't before - written by Ernest Tidyman. Tidyman is probably best known as the author of Shaft and its sequels, (the books, mind you), but he also adapted Robin Moore's true crime book The French Connection into a little movie of the same title. While I can appreciate certain elements of the film, (Isaac Hayes for instance), I much prefer the book and think it's been unfairly eclipsed by the movie. Take the opening scene of movie when Shaft is ambushed in his office - in the book he THROWS that motherfucker out the window - in the movie the guy is a dumbass who falls out the window. Changes everything. Of course he wrote the adaptation himself, and won an Academy Award to boot, so what do I know, (also got him a NAACP award - one of the few white folks to have one of those). Anyhow, it got me thinking about books which have for better or worse been eclipsed by their own adaptations. Uh, Mario Puzo's The Godfather, perhaps. Maybe Larry McMurtry's Horseman Pass By - Hud. Not that I'm opposed to it ever happening, but it takes strange forms sometimes - I don't know that film adaptations of Philip K. Dick will ever eclipse his reputation, but jeez they're different creatures than his books and Stephen King's famous disappointment with Stanley Kubrick's The Shining makes you wonder how many terrific takes could there be on the same material. Dunno, just riffing here. Anybody got more?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Oedipus Wrecks

Nate Flexer’s debut novel The Disassembled Man, (New Pulp Press), is a wince-inducing front row seat to a soul shredding. It’s so unrelentingly dark, so hopeless and dank, that when the humor rears its fugly head you’ll want to wretch because you laughed. You will hate yourself for those laughs. But you will laugh. And then puke. And maybe chuckle sickly for a few days. And throw up in your mouth a bit. It's not funny. Sort of though.

Frankie Avicious has worked as a “sticker” at the Sunshine Foods plant for five short years. He slices the throats of the cattle that come down the line every few seconds, dangling from chains and hopefully dead already, but more often than not, just hurt and pissed off, crying and thrashing, before they’re skinned – again, hopefully already dead - at the next station. It’s a bloody, shitty job, but Frankie is an ex-con with a rather bovine wife at home to support – his needs are immediate and his options few. He’s also trying to prove himself to his disapproving father in law, the owner of Sunshine Foods, who seems more than content to let his only daughter and good for nothing son in law wallow in abject poverty while he enjoys the material rewards of clean living.

Frankie has also got some problems of a sexual nature including a non-functional marriage, an inappropriate relationship with his mother in law and a murky one with his own imprisoned mother, plus an infatuation with a stripper – an ugly one at that – who has two things going for her: she’s “one hiccup away from two black eyes” and bears a vague resemblance to a certain incarcerated family member… Frankie can’t quite put it together.

How does Frankie deal with it all? Binge drinking and biding time. After all, the old man can’t live forever right? He’s bound to die some day and leave his only daughter some dough, yeah? And a note on the drinking – Ken Bruen is famously frustrated when his Jack Taylor series is sighted as romanticizing the cups when his intentions are the opposite, but goodness gracious ol’ Jack’s blackouts sound like an Amish hay ride next to Frankie’s harai kari with a bottle.

Eventually his patience runs out and Frankie decides to get pro-active on a life improvement plan. This means money first – Pop’s got to go. The murder is simple, but Frankie is so bottled up that that first step into acting on his impulses really gets the better of him and he lets loose on the world with all the pain, rage and confusion he’s carried around for a lifetime. You will be amazed at the depths of his pain, rage and confusion. I dare say, you’ll get your fill of pain, rage and confusion. It’s a pain, rage and confusion fire sale, take all you can carry.

The prose is simple. There is no effort made to wow you with linguistics. Things are said simply or not at all, trusting the reader to read between the lines. Some authors write tough guys who are martyrs or thrill seekers of a macho or poetic leaning and good for vicarious punishment or cathartic suffering, but Flexer's Frankie is a tough guy just for getting out of bed in the morning, just for showing up at that horrible job every day and not once will the reader want to be him. In fact Frankie's problems will make you thankful for the shitty job, sour marriage or mother in law you've already got.

If Satan ever wiped his bunghole with a human being it was Frankie Avicious. At one point his nub of a conscience begins to irritate him when the bodies in the cellar "began rattling their bones. I was in the living room, drinking whiskey from a straw and cheating at solitaire, when I heard a faint "thump, thump, thump" coming from the basement. I didn't pay it any attention. It was probably just a rat, I told myself, or perhaps a harmless burglar. I kept on drinking, covering my ears with clenched fists. But the thumping became louder and more distinct. Footsteps. Human footsteps. I became paralyzed with fear. I didn't know what to do. I turned on the television."

When he’s bought his one way ticket and securely buckled in for his suicide trip, Frankie has a brief encounter with God.

“I close my eyes and suddenly felt His presence. My eyes welled up with tears. I dropped to my knees. To think that He had sent His only son to bleed and die on that cross for a wretch like me. I was overcome with gratitude. I didn’t deserve it, I know I didn’t deserve it. But I was going to make the most of it. I was going to go on killing and whoring and stealing and cheating, and there wasn’t a goddamn thing he could do about it. All my sins forever forgiven because of His never-ending love. Buyer beware…”

Whatever literary tag it's given, The Disassembled Man is a hell of a statement for New Pulp Press whose books you wont find on the shelves of your local bookstores. They're a small start-up group relying on word of mouth and internet orders to keep going - that said - they're far from the low quality print-on-demand, vanity presses that are springing up like weeds in the sunshine of affordable technology. John Bassoff and crew have put together a line up of hard bitten titles a step and a half removed from the main stream of crime writing and I expect good things.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bad Muthas Day CONTEST!!!

While the rest of the country celebrates father’s day today, at Hardboiled Wonderland it’s Bad Muthas Day and I’m in a generous and self-promoting mood, so stay tuned to the end of this post cause there’s a contest for y’all. First, my kids gave me an awesome bright yellow, plastic watch that they picked out themselves and I promise to wear faithfully till it breaks in a couple weeks and my wife, (she's a good and long-suffering woman) gave me a kick ass book called Dope Menace: The Sensational World of Drug Paperbacks 1900-1975 which I am thumbing through right now. Lots of great pulp art and essays regarding the pbos that taught America about the dangers and delights of dope.

Also, just got confirmation on the next installment of Noir at the Bar which will be held again at the Delmar Lounge Sunday, August 2nd with, (so far) Theresa Schwegel and Michael Kyorta. So mark your calendars and establish an alibi now.

Alright, now for the CONTEST! Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll edited by Todd Robinson, (I defy you to read the interview in the previous post and not check out this book) features many excellent stories by many excellent writers, but keeping with themes of the past few entries over here, I’m focusing on two in particular, my own – Politoburg, and Cramp by Anthony Neil Smith. Both stories feature scenes of the protagonists receiving much needed sponge baths, (rag baths, but you get the picture) from merciful ladies. If you can name the female characters in both stories and email me the answers, (click on my profile on the right hand side of your screen for my email address), you’ll be eligible for the big prize. The prize is a signed copy of Neil’s new book Hogdoggin’, (in which inscription he gives yours truly a dubious endorsement). To give erebuddy a chance to get to your local bookstore and purchase or order ST&R&R and read said stories, I will be accepting answers through July 5, that’s two weeks to secure and read a great anthology. Should there miraculously be more than one correct answer received by July 5, I will draw from the correct entries at random. Trust me, you have no choice. Happy Bad Muthas Day.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Jailhouse Rape, Cursing, Poop Jokes and Boobs

Todd Robinson, aka Big Daddy Thug, is the creator/lead editor of the online crimezine Thuglit. He’s brusque, nasty and funny as explosive diarrhea. He’s taken online publishing to some pretty respectable levels - Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll is the second volume of a three book deal with Kensington and polluting the shelf space of a bookstore near you – and Sean Chercover’s story A Sleep Not Unlike Death from last year’s Hardcore Hardboiled anthology earned an Edgar nomination. He’s also a writer of no small talent. Thuglit has just published it’s 31st issue.

Thuglit seems to be filling a niche in the culture. Where'd it come from?

Nobody else was publishing the kind of stories that I wanted to write or that liked to read. Plots With Guns had gone under, so I thought: Hey, why not? Four years later, I know why not. What kind of jerk-off takes on an extra forty hours of unpaid work every month? Seriously.

Is it what you want it to be?

Absolutely. I'm a megalomaniac and a bit of a prick (and so are my editors). A couple of people have offered to take over the mag if I decide to call it quits,and my response was that I'd see it die before I'd even give someone the CHANCE to make a mess of my ugly baby. Who knows? They'd probably do a better job than I can, but it's still MY beautiful mess.

What about your own writing? Has it eclipsed your other ambitions?

Absolutely. My own writing is dead and gone. But to blame the website completely wouldn't be fair. It certainly can claim its fair share of my demise, but not entirely. Ken Bruen once called me a "walking cautionary tale of the publishing industry". If anything can go wrong for a writer, it has for me over the last decade. The website has simply consumed up a looooooot of time that I could have used to forward my own writing.

Having now occupied both sides of the desk as a writer and an editor has given me an unfortunate insight into the business of writing. The business isn't fun and it sure as shit isn't fair. Nothing says it has to be, but that still doesn't keep the fact of it from sucking. George Burns nailed it when he said "Show business is a hideous bitch goddess." The industry of writing is more about show business than craft nowadays. My own ambitions have been squashed like a bug under the stiletto heel of that bitch goddess.

So what has replaced those ambitions? As an editor you seem to be experiencing success, a three book deal with Kensington is impressive and Sean Chercover's story getting the Edgar Nod couldn't have hurt. What next?

Nothing at all. No ambitions. Nothing. I never really wanted to be an editor at all, it just kind of played out that way. While Sean's Edgar nom is a nice feather in the cap for the site (and a hugely deserved honor for Sean), the book deal does nothing whatsoever. I give all of the money to the writers. What little is left over doesn't even cover the expenses of the website - which, honestly, would be gone if not for trying to give the books better exposure. It's my own personal Ouroboros.

If I sound bitter, it's because I am. I am a bitter, bitter angry man.

Is that an announcement of the end after the third anthology?

I'm not making any kind of announcement...yet. The only thing constant is that things change.

Let's get back to the bitterness then. Would you like to get anything off your chest?

Nah. Nobody wants to hear another failed writer bitching.

How about successes then, anybody you published early that you're particularly proud of?

Nope. I'm proud of all of our stories. There have been some award-winners that have surprised me, and some that I thought were instant classics that received no recognition whatsoever. I'm just glad to have helped writers in any way I can get the exposure they need.

Recently hitched and becoming a family man, are you mellowing?

Hell no. I think I'm becoming angrier - or less tolerant of the bullshit airs, pretensions and attitudes that choke the oxygen out of the room whenever dealing with 'the industry' cough...justwenttotheEdgarsforinstance...cough... Boy, I need to get my lungs checked. My coughs are elaborate. I have zero patience for that shit anymore.

How 'bout that stuff. Is there any felt pressure to justify yourself with awards or accolades?

None at all. I don't need to justify a damned thing. The awards aren't for me, I just provide the platform. It's all about the writers and trying to give them an extra round of ammunition when they step into the professional ring. I don't feel that the awards justify anything about what we do but for our ability to spot a good story. We do what we do, we'll always do what we do until we don't do it any more. It's like Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come...just that we built it with jailhouse rape, cursing, poop jokes and boobs.

Will that be the title of the third Thuglit anthology?

No, but that would be awesome!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Questions & A.N.S.wers

Anthony Neil Smith is one of the most persistently subversive writers doing genrre stuff today. He's rooted firmly inside crime and noir traditions, but cannot help monkeying with our expectations. Think you're getting tough guys, tough guy? Think you're not? Think quadruple amputees can't be sexy? Think they're always sexy? His books and stories are littered with grotesque and strange characters who would be caricatures in the hands of most anybody else, but whom he insists first upon creating and second upon making them breath, bleed and spit on the page. The result is that when things inevitably go awry for them, you experience the three way tug of comedy, tragedy and visceral pulp fiction thrill. He's also the creator/editor of the online journal Plots With Guns. His latest novel is Hogdoggin'.

When it arrived, Plots With Guns sorta kicked crime fiction in the balls, gave voice and spotlight to a lot of deserving and hungry talents, including your own. What's its main function now? Is it more a service to a community or a prolonged PR campaign for your own work?

First, I don't think of it as PR for me at all. I don't advertise my stuff on there except for a link to my website on the links page. And I don't publish my own work (in the old days, we only did that a couple times--once for the "pilot" issue to show people what we were looking for, and once when Victor Gischler and I posted a story we'd written together under a pen name). I don't even do an editor's note.

So, for me, it's all about the fact that I love great noir stories, and I am on a search for the stuff that really gets to me the most. I want to be surprised, wowed, touched, and have all my previous ideas about what makes a great story challenged. I like to find the stuff that doesn't fit comfortably in either literary or pulp mags, but just sings really loud on the page.

As for service to the community, I don't know. I keep my focus on the stories, so that means I end up rejecting *a lot* of stuff. If that makes people then raise their game, cool. But I'm not going to be forgiving if the story doesn't do it for me, regardless of the writer's rep.

We started PWG because we couldn't find that many magazines that were publishing the stuff we liked. When I re-cranked it last year, it was because MURDALAND and OUT OF THE GUTTER and THUGLIT had delivered on the promise I had hoped for (that joints like PWG, full of attitude and honesty, would pop up more and more often), and I was chomping at the bit to get back in the game and see would I could do. And, shit, the stories starting coming in and knocked me on my ass.

Is it what you want it to be? Does that change? If so, any idea what that may become?

I think it's mostly what I want it to be. And it only changes in terms of mood, I think, from issue to issue. I like that I have the freedom to experiment, like with the PLOTS WITH (RAY) GUNS issue I have coming up in May. Plus, I'm even considering a "Bonus Summer Special" that I can't talk about yet. With the web, I can do anything I want.

I wish we had more artists, photogs, and graphic designers willing to do original work for us...for free. Right now, I'm just finding stuff on Flickr and asking permission. We've found amazing stuff, absolutely, but it means I have to put in a lot of effort to find the right art. The thing has got to be appealing to the eye in order for it to match the level of quality in the stories. I can do better on that, and I keep trying.

But primarily, I want it to be something where you can't help but read it all because it looks great and the stories won't let you quit.

You've described Psychosomatic as your "noir cartoon". How would you describe the work you're doing now?

I'm not happy with the work unless I'm surprising myself, feeling weird the whole time. I'm aiming for something a lot earthier, but still cartoonish in the sense that it's faster, more vivid, and larger than life. Raw, fast, dirty storytelling.

But right now I'm working on something that's a bit different than the last couple of books, and I'll hold off on talking about it other than to say it's a literary tip o' the hat to a character and series I really enjoy. Like an homage, but all contemporary-ied up.

And several months ago, I abandoned what I was calling my "Pentecostal" novel (I used to be Pentecostal and there's something really strange and fascinating about the faith) because it just felt all wrong. Maybe I'll go back to it eventually. You never know when you'll see clearly what you missed when you abandoned ship the first time.

Oh, and don't count out more novels in the world of Lafitte and his co-horts. Got big plans for those.

How about those Pentacostal stories? They're another side and probably lesser known of your writing. They're funny and not so funny too. How many are there?

Well, I think I did a good handful, maybe close to ten. They were parts of my master's thesis and doctoral dissertation. Some were published, and can still be found online, in Connecticut Review, Bacelona Review, and a few more. There was one in Storyglossia in 2007. Really cool magazine. But I wrote most of them in grad school from 1997 til 2002. I was freshly "recovering" from Pentecostalism and angry. As I workshopped them, my profs said, "These would be good if they weren't so bitter". So I had to work through that in order to get to the fact that I still liked the people. I thought their devotion was fascinating. But it wasn't for me.

Since then, I've tried to find ways to incorporate the story of a fallen preacher into a novel. Not so much a noir book as a Gonzo Southern Gothic. But it just hasn't come together quite yet.

Was Billy Lafitte always going to be a series character?

No, no. I just have trouble thinking in terms of "series" even though I read a number of crime series--Stark's Parker books, James Lee Burke, Crumley's (which seem less a series than a bunch of novels with the same people in them), plenty of others. Same with comics--SCALPED, HAWAIIAN DICK, CRIMINAL (which is only a series in name, really), 100 BULLETS.

Still, I look at my shelves, it looks like my reading habits have shifted mightily away from series.

Ultimately, I just think up a story and go where it takes me. For the follow-up to YELLOW MEDICINE, HOGDOGGIN' (which I was writing before YM even sold to a publisher), I wouldn't have gone for a sequel except for the fact I had this vision of Lafitte rolling back into town on a custom chopper. So I started that before realizing I wasn't interested in having Lafitte tell me his story again. No, I was more interested in how several people saw what was going on. And there it was. I think Lafitte will be in a third novel, but I probably won't get around to writing it until next year. I'm also working on something featuring a different character from HOGDOGGIN', and I'm really excited about how that's going. But that one wasn't originally supposed to feature this character. Just organically became obvious that it should.

What about crime or noir then? Was that always what you were going to write?

Oh yeah. I was hooked by The Hardy Boys in second grade before moving on the superior Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators Series. Plus, I really loved the covers and titles of all the adult crime fiction in the library. I just liked the idea of detectives, of solving crimes. Of course eventually I didn't care so much about the solving any more and just wanted to read about bad people doing terrible things, but with reasons.

I tried writing other things along the way--comedy, teen angst, Christian fiction when I was a holy roller, but it always came back to crime and noir. The "lightbulb" moment was picking up James Ellroy's WHITE JAZZ in the store, reading a few pages, and then picking my jaw off the floor. I thought "I didn't know you could write crime fiction like this". So that was the moment I also realized that instead of just studying Literature, I needed to find some Creative Writing classes.

Even in grad school, I would sometimes toss a crime story into workshop just to see what would happen (and I tried to write them so they weren't obviously genre stories). Eventually, at my dissertation defense, my professor Frederick Barthelme told me not to worry about the literary vs. genre debate. He said I obviously cared about the crime genre, and so I should go after what I liked. And I did. Maybe that'll change one day, but for now I just write the types of stories I would most want to read. And studying literary fiction and craft definitely helped me think about more interesting ways of going about it.

Is it an issue for you still? Is there a level of literary respect/credibility that you want to acheive?

Ha! I want Michael Chabon's career. Actually, no, more like Norman Mailer. That guy could get away with anything. I just want to be able to write about anything and still have it reflect my persona--the stuff I choose as subjects and the voice thorugh which I talk about them. Irvine Welsh sort of has that. Charlie Huston's gaining it. Palahniuk, Lansdale, Larry Brown, Rupert Thomson, Flannery O'Connor, Mary Gaitskill. They can do anything they want.

So it's not so much I want a certain level as it is that I want *a* level, period, so that I can keep writing. Cult status? I'd take that in a second. As long as there's an editor out there who'll take a chance on the next book, I'm game.

We see the literary/genre wall cracking all over the place. But there came a point when I asked, "Why even try to convince the people who are so stubbornly determined never to be convinced?" So I won't. Let them come to me if they want to.

I keep thinking I would've been right at home in the 50's and 60's writing for Gold Medal. Those guys, you know, the best of that stuff stands up all these years later.

How are you coping with the end of the world, (the collapse of publishing as we know it)? Has it created any opportunities that you intend to exploit?

Aw, really, man? I don't get all mopey and pessimistic. People seem to have short memories--stuff gets bad, then it gets better, then bad again, on and on. There will always be storytellers. Always poets, prose writers, and screenwriters. Okay, and now game designers (almost, but not quite, methinks).

I have always loved indie presses, and I'm on an indie press, and I think the indies have a great opportunity to move in and make something of niche audiences and targeted marketing. Hell, Bleak House had their best ever year in 2008, you know? Soft Skull and Akashic are doing very well. My publisher for THE DRUMMER, Two Dollar Radio, blew up *bigtime* in the last couple of years because of some very smart choices they made. So that seems a bit like the "buy local" phenom in certain ways--they go out, find the audience, and make it work, rather than thinking, "Shit, if this book doesn't sell a ga-jillion copies, it's fucked."

You know, if anything, I would like to exploit the "local" markets I fit into. I would love for the books to get more attention in Minnesota and Mississippi (where I live and where I'm from). Seems to be working in MN, but MS is a tough one to crack. Lemuria, the star bookstore in Jackson, ignores the shit out of me. Four novels, and every time they refuse to let me even sign stock. Refuse to carry the thing at all. At least at the even better Square Books in Oxford, MS, they took a chance on a dozen copies of YM and sold most of the books before I got there to sign stock. So those guys, I hope they'll have me back.

And I love the indie stores I've been to in, Memphis, Houston, St Louis (where I'll be busy on my next visit, so I'm told), Madison, and Milwaukee. Those are the places I love to visit, see friends, sign some books. I like that, driving around the Midwest and South, spreading the word about my wicked little novels. Grassroots and shit.

Then again, the Virtual World has been good to us small-timers, too. Blogging, other sites, all that. You've got to rally the readers and try to keep them on your side. I don't want to slap them across the face with my stuff all the time, but I want them to think "You know, based on his posts, his tweets, his blips (sounds like I'm talking droid language), his sense of humor, and the other writers he tells me about, I'm pretty sure I'll like Smith's books. Sold!"

How about region in literature today?

Yeah, there's always regional literature. Feels to me that we like finding ourselves in amongst the things that make us all different. No matter how much TV and strip mall culture spreads, people on the ground still have the landscape, language, and quirks that stand out. We make the strip mall fit *our* context, even as it's working to fit us into its context.

But what does it look like? That's the "you know it when you see it" situation. Flannery O'Connor was even talking about this back in the 50s, and the conversation hasn't changed much. I think the literati have even conjured up the term "the literature of place" to replace "regional lit". Go figure.

That's not to say I won't name names of my faves: Daniel Woodrell (Ozark Country), Crumley (Montana and Texas), Larry Brown (Mississippi), O'Connor (Georgia, mostly), Pelecanos (Washington D.C.), Banks (Newcastle), Guthrie (Edinburgh), Annie Proulx (the dirty American West), Donald Ray Pollack (rural Ohio). Plenty more, it goes on and on. And I enjoy reading writers willing to take hold of the landscape and people with such aggresiveness rather than try the every-person suburb or typical NYC or LA settings.

You know...being from the South, "Southern Lit" was a big deal, and it took coming to Minnesota to see a whole 'nother side of rural lit. Lots of big fish in small ponds all over the country, as far as regional writers the rest of us haven't heard of. There's a big interest up here in preserving the regional lit culture built around Minnesota and the Dakotas. Plus, that melds into Western literature. So I think the small presses out there chruning out the regional darlings are doing well for themseves, and they have no ambitions to take it any further. So we'll always have the regional circles, much like we'll always have local music circles, because the next wave is always hungrier and has less to eat, so they have to find better ways to get fed.

I love the director Craig Brewer's work. HUSTLE AND FLOW and BLACK SNAKE MOAN do a really good job of showing the Old South vs. New South that we lived every day when I was in Mississippi. But they're also really awesome exploitation flicks like you used to see in the 70's. I love the way he used genre excess to still give me a good taste of Mississippi and Memphis in those two movies.

Craig Brewer is a wonderful example of the unexpected flavor of Billy Lafitte who you're immediately on board to enjoy from a remove in crime and punishment, but amidst all the high-octane pulp there's a compelling humanity that makes him tragic and frightening and sometimes sympathetic. Agent Rome pulls it off in Hogdoggin' too. It's a great balancing act. Does either element in your ambitions trump the other?

Not really. I like the word "Trump", though. I used to watch the Apprectice a lot, before it got celebritized...

What was the question again?

Oh, right. You know, I got sick of hearing people talk about my "unsympathetic" characters when I had total sympathy for them. Or at least empathy--I get what makes them laugh, cry, and tick. So it seems the sympathy all those editors were after was a little manufactured. Not "sympathy", but a certain *type* of sympathy. The fatal flaw, the achille's heal. Which is bullshit. Real people are much more complex, rich, and conflicted than that. So I just write em as I see em. Like, when people said Rome deserved to die at the end of YELLOW MEDICINE (several early readers thought so) for being such a bastard, I was shocked. I thought I showed that he was just doing his job, albeit aggressively, and that he wasn't easy to hate. So when Billy launched at him for revenge, I wanted it to be hard to take Billy's side while at the same time understanding exactly why he made that choice.

So, it just makes sense to me.

With Pulp Boy, the Emerson Lasalle biopic, on its way, is your appetite for filmwork increasing?

Um...kind of? I think I would like to write more screenplays. I've done two with Victor Gischler, and we work together pretty well on those. But the solo scripts never get past ten or twelve pages. I don't know what it is. And the deal is, I'm *definitely* interested in writing comic books, so I guess part of the motivation is just in having someone expecting something. With the novels I feel it. But so far, I have a few screenplays I'm working on that I hope to finish in the next couple of years.

What's it like collaborating with Victor, or anyone else for that matter?

Well, I don't think I've collaborated with anyone else on writing projects. On editing, sure. But writing with Gischler...we've got similar senses of humor, I guess, and that helps a lot. Our scripts are more funny than anything else, whereas I would say my fiction isn't quite as obvious about the funny. Darker humor. But, shit, most days I'm looking for stuff to laugh at.

Also, working on a script with Victor, we're never tempted to just stop with the easiest line or scene. We keep pushing each other until the scene has us both cracking up for no good reason other than we've never heard anything like it before. The funny thing about that is both started our first script (the unsold but brilliant CRESCENT CITY SMACKDOWN) with this mantra in mind: "Let's Sell Out." Turns out we couldn't do it, though. We can't sell out because selling out means the writing would be boring, and we can't do boring.

We're big fans of "arbitrary" humor. Stuff that's full of throwaway lines, weird set-ups, especially awkward humor like THE OFFICE, absurd shit like FAMILY GUY.

I think the scripts I'm working on look very very different than the ones we've done together. Just harsher, more like a seventies exploitation film.

What would people most surprised to find you were influenced by?

Hm...Bible stories? I always said that those were bloodiest and most awful because in order to see the good, you had to be shown the worst. I think. Also, maybe Flannery O'Connor, even though that's probably obvious. James Lee Burke influences me more than I want him to. I get inspired by 80's heavy metal, the hair stuff. While I'm not a big fan of hip-hop, Ol' Dirty Bastard had an attitude I thought was like an old school pulpster.

Thing is, I think most of it is out there on the page, even if that means finding it becomes a bit of an easter egg hunt.

Ah, yes, '80s hair metal - anybody in particular inspire you for The Drummer?

Well, not a particular band. It was that middle ground "blues-rock" between the too heavy bands and the Poisons of the world. Folks like Tesla, Tora Tora, Cinderella, Kingdom Come, Whitesnake, and a handful of others who were pretty serious about what they were doing, but who still liked a little flash and glam.

What themes would you say link your stories?

Certainly it would be the awful things people do to each other, and how they justify that. Most of the stuff revolves around relationships, really.

Also, fear. I think the protagonists in my stories have to be afraid of the stuff they're facing. It's bigger than them, bigger and more threatening to their life than anything they've ever come across before.

I think my stuff has been leaning more and more into "rural noir" or "rural gothic" as we go, but still with a rock-and-roll center.

One thing I notice after four novels is that there are a lot of people leaving their old lives behind and starting over with a new one.

Where do you think that comes from?

Hard to say. I know I was hooked on THE HARDY BOYS as early as second grade, especially because the covers were interesting--trapped in a plane, screaming toward a dark ocean? Hey, I want to read about that! So between that and THE THREE INVESTIGATORS and the Michael Shayne pulp novels on my grandpa's bookcase (next to the Westerns, which he preferred), it was an early love affair. The books were dangerous. And since my real life was *not*, well, there ya go.

Then my dad died when I was ten. Nothing nefarious. Car wreck. But that give me my first glimpse of the funeral business, which my mom became fascinated with. So I got to learn a bit more about death than I expected to. For some that would maybe open a up a fascination with the macabre that ended up leading to horror writing, horror flicks. But I danced with the one that brought me--crime fiction, and I explored how dark I could make that.

My first "serious" attempt as a kid at writing a real magazine story was actually half-horror, half-crime. I thought my detective could explore supernatural stuff. So this story had a crap insurance investigator going to check on a family out in the woods who seemed to be making strange insurance claims. He was planning to put an end to the payments by killing them. Turns out *they can't die*, and one even chases the guy after his head was blown off. So, hillbilly undead kill the investigator, and my detective comes in and thinks he sees a murder where everyone else sees a he visits the family, and the guy's got his head sewn back on raggedly...I can't remember how it ended.

Anyway, I've got no problem admitting I'm scared of a lot of shit. Get freaked out a lot. So a lot of the writing comes from exploring those fears. A big "what if" game. That and the early exposure to death, I think that's a clue.

Do your friends and family have anything to say about your work?

My wife hates all of the endings of my books. Says they're never happy. So when I'm working on one and she hates the ending, I know it's good. But she likes the rest of the book.

But, you mom likes them. She doesn't think they're as "nasty" as I tell everyone they are.

Friends outside of the lit world, especially people from Minnesota, get a kick out of them. *And* they see the humor in them. That's good, since I do tend to take some swipes at Minnesota (out of LOVE, people. I insult because I LOVE).

You do describe your work as "nasty" a lot. Is that self defense as in - I called it that first, so you can't tear into it for that - or is it effective marketing

It's (supposed) honesty, I think. I just know that when I go to mystery conferences, I get the feeling there's only a small group of us there that deal in noir and the rougher side of crime fiction. So when I see some grandmotherly types in the audience for one of my talks, and two of them are knitting, I feel (just in case!!) I should warn them. I did that in Omaha at Mayhem once. I said, "Look, I use a lot of filthy language and will talk about sex and awful violence. If that bugs you, get out." And they did. The one remaining lady from that group chided me and said "You got rid of some possible readers." But I don't think so because it seemed if they don't like fucking and blood, then I really don't want them to waste their hard-earned money on my stuff.

I want it to reach the people who find that sort of thing appealing. And I'm certainly not some "splatterpunk" doing shock for shock's sake. I'm not leaning back with an evil smile because I creeped a reader out (I believe John Gardner calls that sort of thing "frigid writing"). No. What I wrote creeped me out first. Made me squeamish while writing it. So I expect someone out there would feel the same and get a similar jolt.

So I want to make sure I'm reaching the right crowd. I don't want someone angry with me because they bought the book and then proceeded to get offended by everything in it. I want them to know up front. And there's plenty enough people who "get" what I'm doing to keep me afloat, I'm sure (I hope).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hogdoggin' Monday

It's Hogdoggin' Monday folks, the day to go out and make a collective statement not just for Antony Neil Smith's bloody good new novel Hogdoggin', but the genre itself. Head on over to CrimeDog One for a pitch from ANS on this notion. He says it better than I could. While you're there you can check out the final virtual rally post from Mr. Benjamin LeRoy of Bleak House Books - publishers of some criminally good stuff. The entire list of rally posts are linked to in possibly chronological order at the virtual dive bar. What an amazing body of work for a two week bender from Neil. Some of those guys, (and gals) went balls deep. While you're waiting for Hogdoggin' or Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll to come by mail because they were sold out at the local bookstore, take a gander into the future with the special theme issue of PWG, Plots With RAYGuns. Holy cow, now those guys thought big. I've especially enjoyed Kyle Minor, Kieran Shea and Pinckney Benedict's pieces, but everybody deserves a pat on the back for getting in there. One wonders what's next year, Plots With SIXGUns, Squirtguns, Nailguns? Whatever, I'm on board. I'm also on board with New Pulp Press, the new kids on the block in the small noir publishing world. John Bassoff's crew have put together some quality stuff. Look for reviews coming soon to HBW. Read something today, it's gonna be ninety something in St. Louis. Gimme a book please.