Friday, October 29, 2010

Pike's Peak

Benjamin Whitmer’s novel Pike is the most exciting, kick ass debut of the year. There, I said it, the book backs me up. Set in the harsh wilds of rural Kentucky, Ohio and on the streets of Cincinatti, Pike bristles with danger, menace and mortal volatility. The bleak, rugged physical terrain mirrors the psychic and emotional interiors of each character who have been put through hells as diverse as the intentions that paved the way.

At the book’s opening: Douglas Pike is a hard bitten old timer who grudgingly takes custody of the twelve year old granddaughter he’s never met on occasion of her mother’s death. The girl is as hesitant to go with him as he is to take her, but neither has many options in life. A bent cop named Derrick Kreiger murders a kid in broad daylight and incites a riot on the streets of Cincinatti. When he's suspended from the force, he goes on an end fastening mission that leaves more than a couple bodies in its wake.

The characters Whitmer assumes you'll love as much as he does, do awful things. They have terrible lives and bloody comeuppance, but his skill and compassion as a writer wont let you dismiss them as irredeemable. The ferocity of this book is something special and signifies the arrival of a major new talent and voice in fiction. Put Whitmer's next one, whatever it may be, squarely at the top of my anticipation list.

With little fanfare, PM Press's Switchblade line has carved out a niche for finely crafted, hardcore crime fiction with a social awareness, and Pike ought to win them a lot of attention. Benjamin Whitmer, graciously gave his time to answer a few questions:

First off, I know it's a line in the book, but it's also the title of your blog and the name on your Twitter account - Can you explain the significance of the phrase 'Kick him, Honey'?

It's just a stupid joke with myself. It was the first of many laugh-out-loud lines I hit in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and I think at one point I had some cockamamie plan to include it in every book I ever wrote. Y'know, to ensure thematic unity through my work.

Now I've just decided to kill a dog in every book instead. I hate dogs.

Reading your author bio, it sounds like you grew up looking at the world like it was wide open - still wild - and I'd say the characters in your book do as well. They treat societal laws as either ignorable irritants or hostile encroachments on their existence, how much of the author's worldview do they represent?

That’s a great question. Growing up, my mother definitely placed a premium on freedom. I had a lot of elbow room, and there was no censorship when it came to books or ideas. She also had very little interest in arbitrary societal norms -- she’s probably the least judgmental person I’ve ever met. She’s an amazing woman, and those are the greatest gifts she gave me. But, of course, that freedom came with a cost. We were very poor, and there were chunks of my childhood where we didn’t have electricity or running water, let alone health insurance or any kind of financial safety net.

For all the talk that goes on in this country about freedom, there ain’t much to be had. There’s no aspect of our lives where we’re not subject to regulation and control, and, as everybody knows, we’ve got more people in prison than any country in the world, and most of them for victimless crimes. No matter how you look at it, when it comes to tangible freedom, the kind that allows us to live how we want to live, we’re one of the least free people around. That’s something my characters grate against, and I absolutely share that with them.

But then I think of before Colorado became a state, when it was pretty much a free-for-all for white settlers. And I think of when white Denverites were worked into a frenzy against the local Indians, and the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers massacred hundreds of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapahoe camped along Sand Creek. And I remember how when they returned to Denver with scalped women’s genitalia stretched across their saddle pommels and Indian fetuses paraded on sticks, the whole town turned out to cheer them on. That’s a kind of freedom, too. And that tension about freedom is something that's been on my mind a lot. I tried to keep it in play throughout Pike.

So was Douglas Pike based on anyone in particular? Or Derrick for that matter?

Well, Pike was based on a few people, none of whom I should I probably name for pissing 'em off. But I did actually have a kind of model for both Pike and Derrick -- somebody I could imagine when I came to a mental block.

In Pike's case it was Steve Earle, circa Transcendental Blues. Earle was just out of jail, and was looking big and burly and full of menace to prove himself. For Derrick it was Waylon Jennings back in his cocaine and speed days, around the time of Honky Tonk Heroes. Honky Tonk Heroes is one of the greatest country albums ever released, but you can tell it almost killed Jennings to make it. You look at pictures of him from that time and he’s drawn thin, strung out, at the absolute stretched-out end of reason.

Those were only a kind of body double for the characters, though, if you know what I mean. I didn't try to base the characters on them or anything. It was just a way of getting myself back on track when I needed to. I probably listened to those two albums, Transcendental Blues and Honky Tonk Heroes, three or four thousand times when I was writing Pike.

What importance did the geographical setting have?

All the importance in the world. I had the characters of Pike and Wendy in my head for years but I had no idea what to do with them until my wife and I moved to Cincinnati chasing a job. My daughter was born within a couple weeks of the move, and she had colic pretty bad. We were living in a tiny two-room apartment, and my daughter would cry for four or five hours at a clip, so when I was home from work I'd take her for walks -- it was about the only thing that would calm her down -- and let my poor exhausted wife get a little rest. We ended up walking all over the city at all times of day and night. Where we lived wasn't a real bad area, but we were bordering a lot of neighborhoods that were, so I'd throw a handgun in my diaper bag and we'd just roam for hours on end. It was then, walking around and looking at the city, that the story started to fall into place.

I always tell my daughter that she can't read Pike quite yet -- she's only six -- but that she's already been to all the locations. I don't think it's done her too much damage, anyway. She asks me for Cincinnati stories almost every night after storytime.

The beginning of the book places us secure in our sympathies with Pike and set firmly against Derrick, but by the end of the book, Pike's character and history challenge our loyalties to him while Derrick's revealed motives endear him a little bit. In your mind was one character clearly the sympathetic one?

No, not at all. I feel like I probably shouldn’t say this in polite company, but I love them both for exactly who they are. As I see it, that’s one of the differences between crime fiction and police procedurals, forensic whodunits, lone hero serials and all the other stuff (some of which I very much enjoy, for the record): with crime fiction, there don’t have to be good guys and bad guys. Instead, you can put motivation at the forefront and make crime a part of character, creating – at least in my mind – much richer, if maybe more disturbing, stories.

I know there are certainly times in my life when I haven’t been at my best. And I know plenty of people who managed to fuck themselves up real good and/or destroy the lives of those around them. But I’ve never met a single person who set out to do so. Every major fuck up I ever met was the product of poor circumstances, bad choices, and whatever flaws and damage they carried with them. I’m not sure you can pinpoint those bad choices or that damage, and in the case of fiction I don’t have much interest in trying – I’m not real interested in writing psychological whydunits, either – but it’s always there.

Those are the kind of people who interest me: heavily flawed, complicated, violent people, doing what they can with what little they have. Straight good guys and bad guys may exist, but I’ve never seen them outside of comic books. (And, come to think, most comic books are more complicated than that these days.)

Is Crime Writer, a tag you're happy to wear?

Yessir, no doubt about it. My next book actually won’t be a crime book; I’m co-writing Charlie Louvin’s autobiography for Igniter Books -- which is about as exciting as it gets for me, being a hardcore country music fan. But after that I’ve got a second novel just about done, a third half done, and I’m researching for the fourth, and they’re all crime novels. They may be a little off center -- at least I hope so -- but they’re definitely crime novels.

Besides which, one thing I’ve learned over the past month is just how generous the crime fiction community is. I’d probably go broke if I tried to buy Keith Rawson and Brian Lindenmuth all the drinks I owe ‘em. Not to mention Switchblade editor Gary Phillips, who I just got to meet in person, and the rest of the folks at PM Press. And, of course, all the people who've been kind enough to contact me and give me their reaction to the book. I've been blown away, and there’s no way I’d want to jump ship.

And, not to be snide, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way, but if you set copies of the latest releases from, say, Jonathon Franzen and James Ellroy in front of me, I’m reading the Ellroy first. I may very well like the Franzen, I may even think it lives up to the reviews, but I’m reading the Ellroy first. I know that crime fiction’s one of the few places left in literature where we can still talk unironically about things like class, race, corruption, the meaning of violence, the consequences of history, and all the other stuff that moves me, so I’m reading the Ellroy first.

So, yeah, the crime writer tag is something I’m more than happy to wear. I’m very proud of it, and I just hope I live up to it.

How did you get hooked up with Louvin? And not to sound grim, but is there a rush to finish the book or a contingency plan in place if he doesn't see it to completion?

It was actually out of nowhere. Igniter Books is an imprint of HarperCollins run by Neil Strauss and Anthony Bozza, and they wanted to do a Charlie Louvin book, so Strauss contacted my agent and asked if he had any writers who’d be interested in the project. I, of course, jumped at the chance, and we sent Strauss and Bozza some excerpts from Pike. Long story short, they said lots of really nice things about the book, and the job was mine.

As to contingency plans, I don’t think there’ll be any need. Charlie and I have been working really hard and talking a lot, true, but he has more fight in him than I ever thought possible. I mean, it’s pancreatic cancer, so it’s a rough deal, but with the grace and strength he shows every day I have trouble believing he’s going anywhere soon. Maybe I’m fooling myself, but he’s pretty amazing.

Two of the characters in the book are a little pre-occupied with pedophilia - Wendy as a threat and Derrick as a flashpoint for violence - yet the closest thing to a healthy relationship described in Pike involves a grown man and an underaged girl. Care to unpack that a little?

I'm not sure I can, it's just kind of the way the story played out. One thing I would say is that I'm not sure that relationship is very healthy. I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t read the book, but that grown man has his own past he’s trying to redeem. Redemption, at least as it gets presented in a lot of fiction, looks like a tremendously violent process. It’s almost like an act of consumption. I mean if you’re redeeming your own fuck ups through the figure of someone else, you’re basically devouring them into your own life story, right?

Certainly the relationship would still be a stumbling point from any reader's point of view, but in the context of the world of the book, of where the characters come from and what they've dealt with, it holds the unique position of not already having destroyed those involved. It seemed to me one more instance of these characters' disdain for the law - of society of the heart - whatever. And how about the law - Jack, the sheriff? What kind of sympathy or esteem do you as the author have for him?

Ah, I got you. Yeah, I think that’s right. Pike certainly thinks that if the relationship is helpful to the grown man and the girl than society has no place getting involved. And that makes sense. As a society we’re real good at shoveling people into prison, but we have no interest in taking care of kids who are abandoned, abused, or starvation-level poor. It just doesn’t come up in the national discourse, except in the breathless horseshit that runs out of 20/20, Oprah (there goes the book club), or whatever. When you’re down to that level, you survive any way you can, and I think Pike would find passing judgment to be hypocritical at best. Of course, Derrick, he’s not real good at nuance in this case – like most people, I suppose – but sometimes things are more complicated than they look from the outside.

As to Jack, the Sheriff, he’s made his own poor choices, I think. Like the rest of them, he kind of blundered into who he is, and now he’s paying for it. I found him sympathetic, for sure. He’s done the best he could with what he had, it's just that what he had turned out to be inadequate. Which, I guess, it usually is.

How did you become involved with PM Press and the Switchblade line?

It was just good timing, really. My agent had been sending Pike around for awhile, and we couldn’t get anyone to bite. We got lots of really nice rejection notes, but they all ended with “way too dark for us.” I have a friend, however, who knows Ramsey Kanaan, the founder of PM Press, and he knew they were looking for books in the vein of Pike. I passed the information on to my agent, he sent it the manuscript off to the folks over there, and they took it. I was really, really excited, of course, and more than a little relieved. I was starting to think it was going to end up collecting dust in the bottom drawer of my desk for the rest of my life.

How long was it between finishing the book and seeing it published?

It was a while. I think three and a half years, maybe a little more.

And in the meantime what kept you occupied?

Well, I’ve got two small children, so that means I’m pretty much always occupied. But I also just kept plugging away. I wrote a second novel, and accidentally got about halfway through a third, and then for the last couple of months it’s been all Charlie Louvin all the time. My career plan as a writer is to make up for my deficiencies of natural talent with pure tenacity. I just figured if I kept grinding away, sooner or later somebody’d want what I was writing. Or, if not, than no harm done, because it gave me something to do that was reasonably harmless – depending on who you ask, anyway – and which I love doing. Some people live for racing cars, some people for building guitars, some people for cooking, this is what keeps me together.

Read my review of Pike at Ransom Notes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

O'Shea Can You See?

Wha? Huh? Are we there yet? Is this thing on? Oh, yes it was a hell of a week in St. Louis and I'm still not quite recovered, but ready to do my worst. First off, thanks to everybody involved with Noir at the Bar - that especially means YOU who came out and gave ear to some seriously attention starved egomaniacs just vain enough to believe if they traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to read, you would show up. Spent a good afternoon with Cameron Ashley and Jonathan Woods Thursday. We powered up on coffee and bloody meat for the evening's events, in the mean time running into Ashley favs like Tim Lane and Brian Hurtt making St. Louis seem like the epicenter of cool. Scott Phillips and Chris La Tray joined us for dinner and the crank sweat dripping into the Schlafly beers made those motherfuckers scary. At the event, Matthew McBride turned up - bald tires be damned - and Dan O'Shea, only a rumor beforehand, materialized like malevolent dream. The evening kicked off with two world-tilting pieces from Woods, (whose Bad Juju is no joke - or maybe a sick one), and the N@B first timers all clutched their drinks with both hands eyeing the emergency exits having no idea what they'd got themselves into. La Tray followed up with his hardboiled contribution to Crimefactory's upcoming Kung-Fu Factory and got the evening's first explosive laughter with that story's climax, (as opposed to the nervous chuckling Woods' stories tend to illicit - 'was that funny?' 'am I a bad person for laughing at that?' The answer to both is 'yes'.) I thanked Cameron on behalf of a grateful nation for AC/DC, for which he graciously took credit, but he refused any culpability for Baz Luhrmann, which struck me as hypocritical. Everybody learned some great Aussie cusses which I'll be practicing to pull out later at Noircon. Scott advanced all the runners with an excerpt from his fantastically twisted new novel Rut, (which you ALL have to order from Stona Fitch's Concord Free Press... Yeah, it's free, do it,) and Dan O'Shea brought everybody home with his contribution to Discount Noir, a nasty piece of middle American malaise. Hung around the bar for a couple hours with the degenerates and closed the evening with Ashley and Woods at the hotel bar sometime Friday morning. (Check out McBride's version of the events here.)

Spent the rest of the morning with those two and Scott, then dropped Woods at the airport and gave Ashley the rinky-dink tour of the Lou. We bought two gallons of beer from the brewery up the street for lunch and spent the rest of the day eliminating them, met up with Scott for nightcaps and sent him off to Toronto first thing in the morning.

I've spent the last two days in bed. But don't cry for me, Argentina, Saturday's mail brought some great reasons to stay there a while - Cortright McMeel's Short, Phillips' Rut, Gil Brewer's The Red Scarf and Dave Zeltserman's 21 Tales. Come get me next week, or turn me over at lest.

Speaking of Crimefactory, Issue 5 is live featuring fiction from Charlie Williams, Sandra Ruttan, Stephen Blackmoore, Patricia Abbott, Matthew C. Funk, Paul D. Brazill, John Weagly, Jim Winter, Chad Rohrbacher, Erik Lundy, Richard Godwin, Libby Cudmore and Calvin Seen.. Of course there's a nice helping of non-fiction features as well from the likes of Andrew Nette, Gary Lovisi, The Nerd of Noir, Eric Beetner, Audrey Homan and Jimmy Callaway.

Something that I don't need to apologize for, but I do feel a certain nagging urge to make up for is my lack of online participation with the cool community of writers, readers and enthusiasts that I have the good fortune of rubbing virtual elbows with out here. I'm just not much of an online guy. Haven't got access to the webs at my house, so I'm not a casual browser. I get online and take care of business, then I'm gone. For that reason, I don't get hip to new stuffs very quickly, I don't do the flash fiction challenges or exchange witty Tweets, not because I don't want to, but it just aint in the cards for me now. Every once in a while I receive a heads up to a new site that I'd probably spend time at if I had more of it. Here's a couple examples of some that you're probably already hip to. Noir Journal, Thrills Blog and The Crime of it All. Check 'em out and lemme know what you think. Meanwhile, Nigel Bird continues the series of one sided conversations over at Sea Minor with Benjamin Whitmer and Charlie Stella. Or how 'bout this contest from Chris F. Holm's blog, a six word story - winner gets a copy of Beat to a Pulp: Round One. And Daniel Woodrell has a new story up at Narrative called Blue Norton. Here's the kickass opening line, "They woke us up about three to go into the jungle and find the sergeant's foot."

Like I said, I've been bloody exhausted and sickly all weekend, so I didn't get out to post links to Friday's Ransom Notes piece about Reed Farrel Coleman and his new one Innocent Monster. I feel bad about that, but it looks like Colemanites found their way over on their own. Good on you, Coleman nation. Today at Ransom Notes, I'm speaky on the topic of alternative routes to publishing, in specific Seth Harwood whose latest Young Junius is now available and recommended, (also mentioned in the piece is Phillips' Rut).

Lastly, I do have N@B schwag for anybody wanting some - event read sheets autographed by meself, Jonathan Woods, Matthew McBride, Chris La Tray, Dan O'Shea, Scott Phillips and Cameron Ashley. These are the printouts the authors read from at the event and each is signed by everybody. Also, I'm giving away an autographed copy of Woods' Bad Juju which he inscribed with a rather saucy remark about yours truly. What do you have to do to "win" these? Just leave a comment on this post and I'll getcha somethin. Out of the country? Don't worry, I'll send you something too.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Noir at the Bar tonight. What do you mean you're going to see Don DeLillo? You can't miss this, dammit, we've got the swears and the beers. Plus Australian potty-talk. Nice little write up here. 7PM at the Delmar Lounge.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I'd Ask the World to Dance

Got my copy of Beat to a Pulp: Round One in the other day. Damn, that is a handsome book. Great cover art by James O'Barr, eighteen year old me is really geeking out to be associated with something he did, way to go David Cranmer and Elaine Ash. Whew, it's a big one, though. This is gonna take me forever to get through. I've already mentioned previous publishings alongside Mike Sheeter, Glenn Gray, Patricia Abbott, Kieran Shea and Hilary Davidson, but Sophie Littlefield and Garnett Elliot also belong in that camp and I'm pleased as hell to appear alongside the likes of HBW friends like Frank Bill and Cullen Gallagher, not to mention the legends Ed Gorman, Robert Randisi and hmmm, seems like I've heard of that Charles Ardai character somewhere too. Scott D. Parker, Matthew Quinn Martin, Paul S. Powers, James Reasoner, Anonymous-9, Stephen D. Rogers, Nolan Knight, Chris F. Holm, Nik Morton, I.J. Parnham, Evan Lewis, Andy Henion and Chap O'Keefe round out that collection, putting me in far better company than I deserve.

N@B this week. Ready? Really? Check again. For those who need reminding, it's a semi-literate, regular event at the Delmar Lounge in the University City Loop. This Thursday night at 7pm, you can catch the likes of Scott Phillips, Jonathan Woods, Cameron Ashley and Chris La Tray. Also beer. Maybe spot some ne'er do wells like Matthew McBride, Malachi Stone or Dan O'Shea. Maybe.

Today over at Ransom Notes I'm talking about Qiu Xiaolong and his Inspector Chen series, but also his new short story collection Years of Red Dust, which learned me a thing or two about Shanghai.

I took part in Nigel Bird's Dancing With Myself series in which he asks writers to ask themselves questions. Things did not go well. Check out somebody like Gar Anthony Haywood. Don't waste time on mine.

Sounds like most folks had a blast at Bouchercon. Glad to hear it. See you next year.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Future

I was called a Luddite once, and after I’d ridden my horse to the library and looked it up, I sent an eloquently worded telegram to the mistaken party in dispute of that claim, but this week I’ve thought that perhaps the mistaken party was myself.

I’d like you to picture a scene from my life this week. I was interviewing CSI creator Anthony Zuiker on the telephone, holding the earpiece up to my ancient video camera which was plugged into the wall. I could barely hear the conversation and later as I transcribed it by playing it back in five second segments, straining to hear the faint voice the camera’s mic barely picked up over its own hum, I listened to what he was saying. Guy was talking about the future like someone who’d been there. Seriously, when Anthony Zuiker sees the future - it looks eerily like the mirror. Whereas, I see the future and get distracted by the price of bread.

Ten years ago his little television show debuted starring that guy from To Live & Die in L.A. and went on to spawn a spin-off shortly afterward starring that guy from Jade. That’s right, Zuiker was on a mission to resurrect the careers of stars of William Friedkin movies. Such a fan was he, that he even had Friedkin direct a couple episodes of his show, (and ya know who else did? Yeah, fellow career ressurector Quentin Tarantino – just try sneezing at that… you can’t). That’s right, he’s the creator of those shows about preternaturally technologically equipped police reconstructing crimes and criminals through what they leave behind, (in the words of Nathan Arizona “microbes and shit.” It’s there whole “damn forte.”)

After a decade of it, he’s scratching the itch to write books. But hell, anybody can do that, so he’s gotta take it to the next level. Level 26: Dark Origins was the first of a strain of book experiences he’s dubbed digi-novels. And what exactly is a digi-novel? A book that can be enjoyed cover to cover conventionally, but is designed to be experienced in tandem with film supplements and an online community, exploring the fictional world created by Zuiker and co-author Duane Swierczynski. Dark Origins was a creepy as hell book about a serial killer who dons bondage gear when he operates, rendering him effectively forensic-proof. Add to that, a contortionist’s body, a sick mind and immovable will and it sounds like a job for Steve Dark – a damaged, forensics dragon-slayer with something more than a knack for catching killers and a lot to loose.

This week, Zuiker and Swierczynski give us the second Steve Dark volume, Dark Prophecy and digi-novel version 2.0 featuring a stand-alone one –hour film and even more bells and whistles on the iPad app. Zuiker insists they’ve improved and re-focused the tone and direction of the books as well, steering away from some of the darkest elements. I asked him about the new book and the future of publishing.

I’ve heard the books described as a trilogy, is that accurate?

Yes it is. When I first got into the bidding war with Dutton and Hyperion and we settled on Dutton, they were definitely very aggressive about making it a trilogy. Which was fine by me because we felt that the more chances we had to tell the story, the better. Book one was definitely a villain point of view with Sqweegel, book two is definitely a Steve Dark point of view for our protagonist, and book three is probably a good balance between villain and hero. Again, we’re finding the balance in our story telling and trying not to replicate ourselves twice, and try to go into new territory and just improve. We’ve made a lot of great improvements. And we’ve been very vocal in the press about our mistakes. Because the thing is for me as a producer, as a leader of industry, it’s not so much to try to have success in industry, but rather be able to verbalize what’s been going right and wrong, to pay that information forward and push the medium forward, so that if anybody else tries to do something like this, we’re closer to our goal, which is perfecting this thing called the digi-novel and moving publishing forward the best way we can through our successes and failures. I did the same thing for television. I’m very verbal about the things I’ve done right and done wrong. I’d like personally to go down as one of those producers that shared as much information as possible for the next person coming up.

Have you heard of any other digi-novels being made?

I think 39 Clues has been doing has been doing things in this arena and been very successful at that. If you ask me will there be a Stephanie Meyer Twilight type series or a Harry Potter type series or a Dragon Tattoo type series coming out in the future where you incorporate motion pictures with real actors like we have and social communities and interactivity instead of just doing a book and the movie comes out a few years later, we can merge all three going forward with all this amazing technology and with the iPad, the answer is ‘absolutely.’

I think that people will appreciate what we’re doing at our company now in the next five years. There’s just no way I foresee going forward that there won’t be some level of storytelling in the publishing industry that doesn’t have this type of interactivity and extra content because publishing and technology will have to merge going forward. We’ve seen the impact of Kindle and taking e-books on the go. It will only get better and faster.

Do you have an idea what the next step is?

Well. We’re going to see how book two does. We’re going to tear it apart and put it under a microscope so to speak. We’re going to see what we did right and what we did wrong. Ask ourselves whether we’ve built on fiction and if we’ve bettered our product and if the answer is ‘yes’ then we’ll keep trying different things and see if we can perfect this experience moving forward. We’ve already got some ideas that are already different for book three. Hopefully Dutton feels that we’ve been successful globally after three books and we’ll do more. And we’re also very seriously thinking about doing a digi-novel that’s not crime based. That there’s a lot of other ways to change up the format. I just took a five mile walk this morning around Central Park and had this discussion, if we did the Dark series and continue, what’s our next series? What would that look like? So we’re having discussions now for the next five years. You know, the thing about publishing is sometimes it’s about book nine. So we really are dedicated to staying in this industry as long as we possibly can and keep challenging ourselves to do great things and hopefully the world appreciates it and likes it and takes us along for the ride.

I’ve got to ask, Steve Dark almost seems like an homage to Thomas Harris's Will Graham - and with William Peterson having played the role in Manhunter, did that have anything to do with his being cast on CSI?

That’s funny. Kind of. When he and I sat down, I want to say in August of ’99, Billy Peterson and I, you know he was from Chicago, I was from Chicago, we both liked the Cubs, we both liked to drink beer at the Cubs’ games, so we got along pretty well and that’s how CSI was started. In terms of Steve Dark, it’s been such a challenging emotional ride with the launch of all three CSIs. I flew back and forth from Vegas to Burbank twice a year for a decade straight. I lived out of a hotel room for five days or seven days (at a time) with three kids, and missed everything from first steps to school plays and soccer games. So I think a lot of the hardship that I’ve dealt with in television, I’ve poured into Steve Dark’s hardship in terms of chasing evil. On top of that, I’ve taken all the information of my CSI career of all the bad people and horrific crimes and put them into one entity, which is Sqweegel, the forensic-proof killer. I think that artistically, channeling all that hurt and pain from the TV experience into the art form of the digi-novel is kind of how that got portrayed as an artist. Hopefully people who are fans of CSI and like that side of it, find it stimulating intellectually.

What's changed now that Steve Dark is not working for the government anymore?

In the book it’s five years later, he’s finished his so-called indentured servitude. I keep telling Dan Buran who plays Steve Dark ‘y’know you’re a werewolf.’ Meaning you really can not not catch killers. There just really is no walking away. So what starts as a casual interest in book two, you know picking up the newspaper, having a cup of coffee, reading about Tarot cards, quickly becomes an obsession with Steve Dark. And I think you’re going to see him get past the brooding phase in book two and really be able to emotionally put to bed the one thing that’s held him back for all these years. Now the challenge for us for book three is how do we turn the stakes up? How does one man take down the man who might control the whole world for book three? All I can tell you is that I was very inspired the movie Inception and you’ll see some similarities in book three.

How did Duane Swierczynski get selected?

He was one of a handful of people selected that were sent to me with writing samples from Dutton. Duane’s done a really, really great job. He had a very, very tough task with book one, to go off a ninety-page outline that I wrote during Terminator Salvation, that had a stop in the writing, that lead to visual, that he had to trust what I was shooting and continue back in the manuscript, that’s really challenging and not something that authors really do. To be sort of given this blue-print where they have to stop twenty times and trust a film maker. So in book two we wanted to make sure that the one hour movie didn’t fight the narrative, so we told him to get back to his roots in the outline manuscript phase of the book and let us shoot the movie separately. And instead of him coming to me in book one, we would make the movie and go to him and write the manuscript for book two. I think it worked out pretty great.
I read somewhere that you were a mystery aficionado since childhood, I'm curious what first grabbed your imagination.

I was an only child in Las Vegas, my parents worked for the casino business, so pretty much my babysitter from three to ten o’clock at night was the library. So I would literally just walk around the library in the mystery or horror section, read all those great Sherlock Holmes novels. I just became infatuated with mystery at a very young age and then I think as I got older as you know a child in Vegas, plus all the CSI stuff, began to get extra creative in terms of telling all these CSI stories.

The whole thing started when I was in Japan and I saw a special on the 25 levels of evil that measure a serial killer. I had no idea that that sort of barometer existed and once I saw that special in Japan, I began to think about level 26 which is a fictitious level with one name on the list, Sqweegel. And that’s how the whole franchise was born.

When was that?

That had to be in the year 2007.

The books straddle the mystery and horror genres, would you classify them one way or the other, or does that kind of distinction make a difference to you?

That’s funny, I went to Columbus Circle this morning to look for the paperback, and it somehow got shoe-horned in the horror section. I always thought of it in the mystery genre or the mystery thriller genre, especially book two.

You studied 'competitive forensics' in school?

I did. The sort of joke around town was when I was a freshman in high school we had an elective and I took “forensics” thinking it was forensic medicine like in Quincy. When I showed up it was actually forensic speech not forensic medicine which taught me about public speaking and that kind of thing. The only ironic thing is that one day I would take those public speaking skills in pitch phase to sell a show about forensic medicine.

You can read the rest of my interview with Anthony Zuiker at Ransom Notes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Crazy Larry Smells B'Con

Gutter Press, the book branch of Matt Louis's Out of the Gutter empire is officially in the swing. Aside from their Baddest of the Bad anthology from OOTG, they've got titles now from Joe McKinney, William Ingsly and I've got my eyes on that John D. MacDonald reprint - looks sticky sweet. Gotta admit, I'm not much of a Travis McGee fan, but I'll take his hardboiled standalones any time.

Jon Bassoff and the New Pulp Press crew are trying their hand at e-publishing. Curious about how that goes. Meanwhile they're preparing to publish a printed edition of Dave Zeltserman's heretofore only available digitally short story collection and Jackson Meeks' While the Devil Waits has been optioned for a film. I gotta say, I come back to that book often. Really had a unique quality that I still am hesitant to define, but the press release I read called it Charles Willeford meets Albert Camus which is good enough.

Kyle Minor wrote this piece over at HTMLGIANT about the ever emerging crime-lit scene. He had great things to say about Anthony Neil Smith especially, plus nods to a bunch of our favorite writers and publications. Thanky, Kyle.

Spintetingler reviewed the new Gerard Brennan edited supernatural tinged Irish crime anthology Requiems for the Departed story by story and assigned a different piece to several writers including me. My job was easy, I drew Ken Bruen out of the hat.

Over at Ransom Notes, I'm bemoaning my inability to get to Bouchercon this year, but encouraging everybody who does to seek out Greg Bardsley and get their picture with him before he blows up. Word is his new novel is gonna um do that.

Crimefactory editor Cameron Ashley has hit American shores - I've seen pictures of him hanging around the likes of Jimmy Callaway and Jason Dukes and I know he's invading the Rawson home soon. Here in St. Louis we're preparing for him by uh... Oh crap, we gotta get prepared. N@B is next week after all. Scott Phillips, Jonathan Woods and Chris La Tray will join the imported Ashley for a perfect storm of nastiness at the Delmar Lounge - but remember - we're starting an hour earlier. 7PM not 8.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Been Franklin?

Over at Ransom Notes, I'm talking about Tom Franklin's new one, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. I loved this book. Not as wild as Hell at the Breech or Smonk, (is anything as wild as that one?), but strong and sturdy and a dark undercurrent that might carry you away, if you're not anchored to something solid. Every night, Larry Ott's mother prays that God send her odd son one special friend, just for him and unbeknownst to her, Larry thinks He has in Silas Jones. When Larry's father finds out about the friendship between the two boys, he plays them against each other till their bond is broken and Larry is once again all alone. Twenty-plus years later, Larry gets another friend. Careful what you pray for. One of the things I love about Franklin's books are his sociopaths. And this one's got a doosey, or two, or three, I don't want to give anything away, but this one comes with my personal stamp of approval. Whatcha waitin for?

Speaking of Franklin, I'm planning a trip to see him in Arkansas in December, but Rod Norman put the notion in my head that he might drop in on the proceedings in Franklin, TN. Sunday where his buddy William Gay will be signing with Sonny Brewer. Will it happen? Doesn't matter, Scott Phillips and I, (and Rod & co.) will be heading out there to meet the legend one way or another.

Then, I've got to hurry home, 'cause Monday morning I'm supposed to speak to a couple of middle school classes. I've never done anything like that before. I'm more than a wee bit scared. I hated middle school and middle schoolers have always hated me, but here I go anyhow. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm being asked under false pretenses. I'm supposed to speak about being a writer, but I'm afraid I may actually be the cautionary tale portion of their education. Whatever.

And in N@B news, Thursday, Oct. 21st's event has been pushed forward one hour. We'll be starting at seven, not eight, in an effort not to run afoul of the live music at The Delmar. Man, I still cringe thinking of Sean Doolittle and Pinckney Benedict having to raise their voices to be heard over that. Sorry guys. Once again, Jonathan Woods, Cameron Ashley, Chris La Tray and Scott Phillips reading from his brand new book Rut, out Oct. 25 from Stona Fitch's Concord Free Press! Be there.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


My friend Kyle. I miss him already.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rut: Noun/Verb

Just announced officially at the Concord Free Press site, Scott Phillips new one Rut will be available Oct. 25. Cause I’m so cool, I read this one like two years ago and I can’t wait to be able to discuss it with the rest of you hosers. It rocks. We’ll be throwing a little release party of sorts for it Oct. 21. We call it Noir at the Bar. Scott will read from Rut, I’m sure, Jonathan Woods will bring something unsettling and Cameron Ashley and Chris La Tray who both have a foot and a fist in the Kung-Fu Factory edition of Crimefactory will be on hand as well to perversify your minds.

Over at Ransom Notes, I'm talking about Hilary Davidson and her debut novel The Damage Done. While here, I'm going to go into why it's such an exciting release for me. Hilary and I both had our very first short stories published in issue 17 of ThugLit. It was my first exposure to online publishing and I had no idea what to expect as far as exposure went. Hilary’s story Anniversary went on to be selected by Ed Gorman for his yearly best of anthology and mine? Didn’t. WTF, Gorman? I was sold, however ,on the exposure that online zines could offer and have since published several more there, (none of which have made Gorman’s or Penzler’s best of the year collections btw – how bitter do I sound?)

Anyhow, good for Hilary. Even though she’d been published many times before, we shared a place for our first fiction exposure and now look at her, Miss ‘oh, I have a book out, oh, I’m so special, oh, don’t you want to be like me?’ Yeah. I guess I do. When Beat to a Pulp: Round One is here, it’ll be the fourth time we’ve had nasty stories attending the same mixer only this time, she’ll be out there on the floor with Ardai and Gorman, and Randisi and Littlefield while me and Shea hold up the wall and spike the punch. Come have some refreshing punch you dancing pretties with your books and your contracts – yeah that’s you Frank Bill- then we’ll get this party started. Bwhaaaahahaha. Ahem.

Cullen Gallagher has a little chat with Hilary here. Nice to see Joelle Charbonneau last night at Left Bank Books reading from her new one Skating Around the Law. Matthew McBride was in attendance too and I scored a couple of great used books by Denis Johnson and Pinckney Benedict.