Monday, August 29, 2011


Multiple weeks for the Noir at the Bar anthology on the St. Louis Independent Book Store Alliance best seller list - fuck yes! Thanks everybody. N@B badass Chris La Tray is telling the story behind his contribution to the anthology - Vampires are Pussies - right here. Go read the hell outta that.

You want more? Yeah, you do. That's why D*CKED is now here. The cranky, rattling, colic-y brain-child of Greg Bardsley and Kieran Shea (okay, my name's on there too) has finally busted outta the cellar, stolen a car, picked up a half-dozen runaway hitchhikers, and was last seen shooting rocket-propelled grenades at bunnies out the window while tearing ass for a horizon near you. It's out in the world now and you'll just have to deal with it. Not bad for a fictional character with no pulse, no?

You've heard the pitch right? We asked a handful of creative types to let their twisted inner fabulists off  the leash and do a little free association with the name Dick Cheney. Got a bunch of wild ideas including several that reoccurred in variations (Dick in pop-culture, Dick as vampire or other mythological creature, Dick's correspondence, Dick's sexy secrets etc.) Who came to play? Patricia Abbott, Cameron Ashley, Eric Beetner, Tony Black, Ken Bruen, Jimmy Callaway, Rachel Canon, Hilary Davidson, Jason Duke, Bill Fitzhugh, Matthew C. Funk, Harry Hunsicker, Nancy Lee Philcox, Scott Phillips, Keith Rawson, Mark Richardson, Al Riske, Marcus Sakey and Steve Weddle. Plus, our wordless contributor, artist Owen Smith delivers the goods via the front cover which is worth the measly $9.99 to hold the object in your hands... Yeah, come to think of it, I'm going to order an extra copy just to rip the cover off and frame that shit.

Really, really proud of the fantastic collection of pulp covers that I'm piling in behind these days. Awaiting the Crime Factory anthology with... (breaths into hand)... baited breath.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jacked Up

I had read some things on the internet after my last few books, saying that I had gone “soft.”  And also, I’d been reading interviews with some of the younger crime writers out there, who are jacked up on what they’re doing and are full of piss and vinegar, as all writers should be.  I’m the competitive type, no question. So with The Cut, I guess I’m saying, I’m still here. I get jacked up, too.

From my interview with George Pelecanos at Ransom Notes.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

This Gun For Hire: Roger Donaldson

Journeymen, craftsmen and artisans in general hold a rare warm ember in my coal-hard-dark heart. The guys and gals out there doin it for hire, honing their skills over time and with constant, repetitive motion leaving behind a body of work often unappreciated in their own time because it was dismissed as populist, mass media, common - whatever pejorative the snobbish jack-offs of the day assign to work that's eager to please and find an audience.

By necessity, there's a lot of throw-away items in their catalog, but once in a while I like to take a moment to consider them, and today belongs to Roger Donaldson. That's right, the director of Cocktail and The World's Fastest Indian is finally getting his due at the HBW, though neither of those films are making my top-five. And neither are some decent ones like The Bounty, (when you're telling ol' timey seafare -  you can not skimp on the simple pleasures of abundant nudity - something Donaldson knows) Cadillac Man and Thirteen Days (yeah, Roger helps Costner stay out of his own way like I really think Kevin'd like to if more producers and directors would only let him, plus Bruce Greenwood as John Kennedy? I liked it.) But, we're not gonna dwell on turdbags like The Recruit or Dante's Peak either.

Roger Donaldson Top Five:

5) White Sands - Honestly, I haven't seen this movie since it was new nearly twenty years ago. Needless to say my tastes have changed some, but some things that haven't like my enjoyment of Mickey Rourke doing damn near anything on screen, my love of crime stories and the strength of the cast - Willem Dafoe, Samuel L. Jackson, M. Emmett Walsh (plus Fred Thompson and Mimi Rogers just kinda hanging around the background). Seem to recall the film's immediate critical dismissing and panning, and true '92 saw some pretty sweet crime flicks (Reservoir Dogs, El Mariachi, Bad Lieutenant, Romper Stomper), but remove yourself twenty years and ask yourself, would you rather put this one on now or the big hits of the day like Lethal Weapon 3 or Passenger 57?

4) Species - Somewhere in the nineties, John Carpenter became a fixture of the eighties (hey, I'll still see anything with his name on it, but for one reason or another, his presence faded somewhere after Memoirs of an Invisible Man). Anyhow, my feeling is that somebody looked up one day and said, where the fuck did Carpenter go? And commissioned a script that would have it all - a hot alien, tough guys, lotsa nudity, blood, sex, dubious science and hey, how about a kick-ass cast? What's Ben Kingsley doing next week? Book him. How about Alfred Molina? No, he only thinks he's busy. Tell him that in this one he'll get tongue-kissed to death by a hot naked chick. Yeah, thought so. Alright, we need Forrest Whittaker and Michael Madsen too, right? Dumb? Yeah, but good, goofy fun.

3) The Getaway - What this movie had going against it - the legacy of Steve McQueen and Sam Peckinpah's original blood and dust classic. What this movie had going for it? Blood. Dust. The hardboiled classic by Jim Thompson, (though, not as much in either film as I'd like to see) and Alec Baldwin before his hyper-masculinity was purposely funny. Plus, James Woods, Michael Madsen, David MorseJennifer Tilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Kim Basinger - far less shy and even a better actress than Ali MacGraw for support. Nothin fancy, just bang for your buck and slick too. I'd take Peckinpah's over this one in a heartbeat, but hey, I enjoyed this plenty.

2) The Bank Job - Far more than the sum of it's parts. Not really sure why it worked as well as it did. Not a show-stopping heist flick, not a particularly street-wise gangster epic, not a kick-ass action spectacular and not a richly-detailed dramatic period piece either. Smarter and funnier too than I had any expectations for - a marketing snafu or puzzle, I suspect. Somehow, less than the top of any of it's respective genres, it managed to be competent at each and fill an unlikely void in the flavor spectrum. Not a hard way to spend an afternoon at all.

1) No Way Out - The only truly excellent film on the list. You think I'm kidding, don't you? I'm not. Love this film. Love this film. Don't ever like Kevin Costner? Fuck you. This one is pure plot, just a constructed in reverse puzzler that ticks like a clock, and you say the characters are thin? Well, aren't they always in this type of fare? But movie stars (as opposed to capital 'A' actors) are just audience surrogates, inviting us to fill in the sketch on the screen with our own experience, and Costner never did it so well. This one is the standard bearer for thriller film-making, and I'm not ashamed to confess falling hard for every twist, feeling every turn of the ratchet in my nuts and yeah, getting my pulse into dangerous territory.

Monday, August 15, 2011


So, somehow I deleted this post and am now half-assing a re-write... Which shouldn't be too hard because it was good, happy shit to say - especially about Noir at the Bar - the book - debuting at number five on the Best Seller List - the St. Louis Independent Book Store Alliance best seller list, that is, but hey, when you're only available in one place in the entire world???? You take what you can get.

Let's see, I also mentioned a little teaser about the next N@B event which will be 8pm Wednesday, September 14 at Meshuggah Cafe with some pre-Bouchercon stuffs goin' on. Said something about Keith Rawson's new short story eCollection from Snubnose Press The Chaos We Know, mentioned John Hornor Jacobs' eCollection, Fierce As the Grave, Richard Thomas and Kyle Minor in the Warmed & Bound anthology and Frank Bill in the September issue of Playboy.

Also, at Ransom Notes, I'm talking up James Sallis's double whammy of The Killer is Dying and the movie Drive, and I've just picked up One Single Shot by Matthew F. Jones (with a foreword by none other than Daniel Woodrell) and I think it's gonna leave a mark.

Talk about leaving a mark, put Ben Wheatley's Down Terrace on thine Netflix que quick-like. I did after seeing it recommended by Ray Banks and Allan Guthrie. I'll take their next suggestions too. My gawsh it were a muck-up of a crime flick. Just a cluster-fuck of emotions, at once hilarious and horrifying in a mix I've never quite experienced before. Wheatley's got another one coming - Kill List, and I'll be first in line for that one, bet yur ass. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Innes & Out

Ray Banks has just pulled off one of the great feats of crime fiction in my eyes - successfully capped a PI series. With Beast of Burden, he's brought Cal Innes to a conclusion that in retrospect seems inevitable without ever losing my investment along the way. Over at Ransom Notes, he's listing his personal favorite short series, but here at the Hardboiled Wonderland he's giving us a peak inside his head. 

It's British in there. It's more than a little intimidating too. Dude's wicked smart and funny to boot. He should be huge. He still might be. Seriously, if people bought books in a just universe, James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks would be his pool boys. If you like your crime gritty and nitty and dangerous, get the hell around to reading Ray Banks. 

Can you briefly relay the story of the end of your croupier career and the beginning of the writing one? Did the one follow the other immediately?

The two had no connection whatsoever, despite what you may have read. I left the casino because I was overworked, underpaid and the armed robbery brought it home how little staff safety meant to the organisation. The writing career, such as it was, didn't start until a year or so later, and was chiefly a way of keeping myself sane when I was unemployed. I'd tried writing books before I went to Manchester, but they were just drunken pseudo-Palahniuk rubbish. I only started having some success when I made a point of subbing to places that edited like Handheld Crime, Hardluck Stories and Thrilling Detective. Once I started learning, that was when I started to think that maybe I had a shot at this.

How heavily did The Big Blind draw on your personal experiences?

Well, Les Beale was a composite of a lot of different punters I knew. The casino staff were also composites of various people I knew at the time, too. All the casinos mentioned in the book are based on real Manchester and Salford casinos, but with the names and layouts changed slightly. As for the double-glazing salesman stuff, a lot of the sales talk was taken from my time on the doors and listening to salesmen. So yeah, it was reasonably autobiographical. 

How much do you stick to the "write what you know" advice?

I don't take it as literally as some people. I mean, obviously I use whatever personal experiences I feel are apt for a particular scene or book, but it doesn't have to be as autobiographical as the advice would suggest. Yes, I've written books about gamblers, and I'm writing one about a casino robbery at the moment, but if I purely wrote what I knew, I wouldn't have written the Innes novels. I mean, what do I know about stroke-related aphasia, prison or private investigation? I think that particular maxim needs to be taken as a general "write with emotional integrity" maxim.

How intent on writing a series character were you with Innes?

Completely intent, if the publishers would let me. I had things I wanted to explore. As it turned out, both UK and US publishers were quick to turn a two-book deal into four, so I had some wriggle-room. It was never going to be a long-running series, though. It couldn't be, could it? Not with Innes getting battered like that. In my head, it was originally five books, with the Scottish part of Beast of Burden as its own novel, but in the end the Declan stuff fitted better with the overall concerns of Beast of Burden, so I folded it into that book.

Yeah, I really respond to those short-series characters who leave everything on the page. Gotta keep a good sense of the stakes right? Do you have any more series characters coming?

That's exactly it. The longer the series, the less likely something awful is going to happen. It reminds me of that quote I posted recently from an NYT article about Breaking Bad - "The depravities of leading men in TV dramas traditionally don't leave permanent scars". And that's how I see it. A series should essentially be a mini-series, not an ongoing soap opera, and anything that happens in that series should have lasting consequences. You should pick up a new book in the series not knowing if something is going to blow that series' world apart. That doesn't exactly fit with a traditional idea of what a series is, though.

But yeah, I always saw Farrell and Cobb as series characters in a kind of Hap and Leonard, Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones kind of way. I don't know how many books as yet, but I do have a last one in mind.

Beast of Burden came out in UK a couple years ago, why did we have to wait so long in the colonies and what else are we behind on?

When the deal was done I think there was a year in between, and because Polygon published in March and HMH in September, it actually turned into 18 months. The US wasn't that far behind when you look at it like that, but it has been odd seeing the reaction to something I wrote almost two years ago. And you've got to hand it to HMH - they've put out some lovely-looking hardbacks. As for anything else, I think the only things the US may have missed out on are the two novellas, Gun and California, but I'm working on putting that right. I've been storing books in the meantime. Expect a flurry of books coming your way soon.

I've been reading a lot of books lately that would've benefitted immensely from having their page-count halved. Gun and California are great examples of why I love novellas - just right to the point story-telling that doesn't skimp on the emotional impact. Do you think they're easier to write stamina-wise or is it harder to pull of a successful story that length?

My tendency is to write short anyway, so they're much easier to write. I mean, thinking about it, a 15-30k novella is about a third of a novel, and so finding a natural arc is actually quite straightforward. And some ideas don't scream out to be novels, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be written. It's nice to have a halfway point between novel and short story. The actual writing of them is exactly the same - outlined, drafted, retro-outlined, drafted again etc. It just takes less time.

Have you written screenplays before?

Quite a few, as it turns out. I have a horror/thriller script doing the rounds at the moment about a stag party who fall prey to a bunch of itinerant Highland cannibals, there was another horror thing about a haunted oil refinery on Canvey Island, and I'm currently messing around with another draft of a Savage Night adaptation. Guthrie's, not Thompson's. Again, I have a list of stories I want to get out there, but I have to have to be able to write 'em first.

How'd you come to write and publish Wolf Tickets (the serialized novel spanning three issues of Needle magazine)?

I originally wrote Wolf Tickets as a collaboration with a well-known Irish crime writer back in 2005 or thereabouts, but for contractual reasons he couldn't continue with it beyond the first chapter. He gave me his blessing to continue with the book and I wrote it in about a month, whereupon it sat on my hard drive doing bugger all for five years. I don't even think we put it out to publishers. Not because it was a bad book - if I thought that, it would've stayed where it was, along with all the other failures - but because it wasn't particularly marketable. The main characters were a dog-killer and a shoplifter, and those were probably their least repellent traits. There was an inordinate amount of swearing and slang that wouldn't be heard outside of Tyneside. It was around 60k too, so it was too short for most publishers.

But when I heard that Needle were looking for longer pieces to run, I asked them if they'd be willing to look at Wolf Tickets as a three-parter. It was partly pure advertising on my part - I didn't have anything new coming out in 2011 other than a novella and the US edition of Beast of Burden, and I thought a serial might be a fun way to get my name out there. Plus, I knew that Weddle and JHJ wouldn't care about the concerns I've just mentioned - they're better men than that. So I did a page-one rewrite and they seemed to like it. Then they published it and other people seemed to agree with them. For me, I got to be in one of the best crime print mags I've ever read, so it was win-win.

Do you get worried notes about impenetrable Brit-slang in your work from US editors?

Is it impenetrable?

My US editors have been brilliant about the slang - I think if it had been a problem, they wouldn't have bought the books in the first place. In fact the only thing they did ask me to change was the title of the second Innes. "Donkey Punch" is a phrase with unsavoury connotations, and I was more than happy to change it, given that it didn't have much to do with boxing.

No, certainly not impenetrable, but I think it goes a bit beyond an accent... A lot of my favorite American crime writers seem to have a larger international following than domestic, do you have any sense as to the geographical appeal of your work?

I hear more from American readers than Brits, but I think the books have a higher profile in the US. The Big Blind was also published in the US first, so that might've had something to do with it. Plus, a majority of the websites I've written stories for have been American. I think there are small pockets of appreciation in the UK, and I've had some nice reviews, but I don't tend to hear very much from my readers, so it's difficult to tell. I know there have been Italian and Polish editions of Saturday's Child, so there's obviously some kind of market abroad. Other than all that, I haven't a clue.

You said that The Big Blind wasn't conceived as a crime novel, what's your attraction to crime writing?

Yeah, I said that before I knew what a crime novel could be. I thought I was being literary because I was splattering angst all over the page, and I thought crime novels were all about solving crimes rather than committing them. I swiftly learned that crime fiction was more than the police procedurals and thrillers that make up the bestseller lists. Crime fiction is realist drama, it's social fiction with the discipline of a plot. It features human beings at the extremes of emotion and morality. It can focus on marginalised members of society as well as those who run it. It delves into the psychology - normal or otherwise - of both the state and the citizen. A crime novel can be both high and low culture, a novel of ideas or tabloid dreck. That's why I love it - the scope and the potential.

Did you study writing formally?

Nope. And I wouldn't, unless I was going to teach it. Don't see the point otherwise. 

Would you like to teach? If so, what do you think you could impart?

I don't think so. I've had the opportunity to teach before, and I've said no. This is a tough one, because I know writers who teach and who are brilliant at it. I mean, these guys can get pretty much anyone's work up to a publishable standard. But I can't help but feel that "publishable" shouldn't be the goal here. The bookstores of the world are yawning with "publishable". It keeps those guys in work, and I'm happy for them, but I don't know that I'd be comfortable with it. I just wouldn't know what to say to people. Read better?

Help me read better then. What are you looking for in a book?

An authentic and compelling voice. Clarity of thought and description. Brevity of action. Wit and originality. I want to see recognisable human beings as characters, and I want to see those characters treated with emotional integrity. There should also be the ambition to create something beyond entertainment, but also the knowledge that entertainment is a narrative necessity. A great book might not have all of these things, but it should have as many as possible. And when you see something that hits one of those marks, you should take time to see how it was done.

Do you re-read many books?

Everything I own, I re-read, otherwise there's no point in owning 'em. The only ones I can think of that I re-read on an annual basis would be Ted Lewis' GBH, Don Herron's Willeford bio, something by Richard Yates and Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn. Everything else gets read when I need specific inspiration.

Why aren't you huge?

Loads of reasons. The Innes books are PI fiction, which is an extremely unfashionable sub-genre. None of my characters are particularly sympathetic, and Innes is neither a conventional hero, nor is he cool enough to be a successful anti-hero. My plots aren't exactly thrill-rides, there are no big, explosive set-pieces, and the violence is anything but slick. Then there's the "bad language", both in terms of swearing and slang, which apparently offends and befuddles readers respectively. Oh, and I don't subscribe to the kind of gonzo nihilism that defines your average bestselling "cult" authors. Finally, there's always the possibility - and a very strong one at that - that the books just aren't good enough or universal enough to connect with a large mainstream audience. That's okay, though. I knew I'd be a tough sell.

Is that basically your pitch letter then?

Yup. I'd also like to add that I'm a terrible self-promoter with questionable personal hygiene.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Momentous Occasion

The play-by-play...

Saturday night in St. Louis saw one of my favorite N@B events yet. The readers were fantastic as always, but it held a couple of special distinctions to me - one, it was the first St. Louis event for Scott Phillips' Og-tastic new book, The Adjustment. Yeah, since we've been doing this series, he's had Rut and Rum, Sodomy and False Eyelashes released, but this one holds an extra-special place in my heart. And two, it was the public introduction to our labor of love - Noir at the Bar, the book! It was great to have so many close friends and contributors on hand for the event. I got mine signed by Matt Kindt, David Cirillo, Matthew McBride, Scott Phillips and Laura Benedict (who stopped by before the event, but unfortunately couldn't stay - she rocks).

And though the contributions to the book are a monument to the event's past, the excitement shared for it points only to the future. If you count folks that've participated more than once, (myself, Scott, Anthony Neil Smith, Frank Bill), add the two that got away (for time-crunch reasons - Theresa Schwegel and Tim Lane) plus those who've participated since - Aaron Michael Morales, Fred Venturini, John Hornor Jacobs, Jane Bradley and Jesus Angel Garcia - shit, we'd be half-way to another collection already. Hmmmm. Let's see if we can't recoup our money and raise some funds and awareness for Subterranean Books with this first one, for now.

Scott kicked off the evening with a look into the head space of my favorite sociopath Wayne Ogden and David Cirillo read a novel excerpt featuring bad English accents, nudity, public disturbance and a scene that reminded me of nothing so much as the restaurant scene from John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Jane Bradley made everybody really uncomfortable with a reading from her fantastic book You Believers (really - go read the shit out this one. I'm picking up one of her short story collections next - either Power Lines or the one Kyle Minor supposedly told her should just be called Sex - Are We Lucky Yet?). Jesus Angel Garcia put the lights out with his megaphone preacher routine from badbadbad and I gotta say, my admiration for that guy and his hustling is just growing constantly. 9,000 miles into his self-funded book tour and he looked fresh and full of energy. WTF? I look like hammered shit three days into a work-week. That guy deserves any and all success that finds him.

I'd like to point your attention to a couple spots of interest on the N@B front -  Laura Benedict is giving away three copies of the book on her blog Notes From the Handbasket with a cool little contest, (nothin hard) and David Abrams featured the anthology with a little note from me on his excellent literature blog The Quivering Pen. Thanks ere'buddy. Scott also mad this ridiculously fun trailer for the book. I like watching it on a repeating loop and have been humming that song non-stop for a week now.

Over at Ransom Notes it's Don Winslow's The Gentleman's Hour stirring thoughtsnshit. Plus, I make passing mention of Urban Waite, who it turns out has his story Nobody Heard a Thing the Night the Chicken Died posted at Design Observer. Checkerout.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting


See The Sights! Smell The Scents! Taste The Flavor of NOIR AT THE BAR with Jesus Angel Garcia, David Cirillo, Jane Bradley and Scott Phillips! Bring a hankie! Bring some wet wipes! Bring some money! Buy the drinks! Buy the books! Don't buy the bullshit!

For the very first time, our tawdry event's very own chronicle will be available for purchase! History will be made! Whoopie will be made!
Butchery of the English language, social mores and the basic rules of hygeine!

Support your local bookstore, tip your bartender!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ambrose Pierced

Here is my command. Go read The Adjustment by Scott Phillips. Who? You. Especially if you like things nasty, dark and unsentimental with a cutting, but altogether whoopdi-do sense of humor. Most especially if you like to read about assholes being assholish with flare. Here's a good test, you've read Charles Willeford? You liked? You need a Phillips fix. Damn it, I'm laying down gold here. Choice wisdom. Pick up this book already. It's Wayne Ogden's lost year as a civilian in Wichita before re-enlisting to further his career as a pimp and black marketeer in Japan, (oh, please let there be a Wayne in Japan book coming!) Are you sick to shit of the sepia-toned Stephen Ambrose/Tom Brokaw/Tom Hanks-ish Greatest Generation bullshit? You wanna stop the lobotomizing of our national memory? Picketh the fuck up this book. Our fighting Joes were not cardboard saints possessed of a flinty patriotic streak and an outraged moral obligation to fight the Axis of evil. Let's stop the disservice we're doing to our heritage and recognize the inglorious bastards in their number. Wayne Ogden = sonofabitch #1. Gotta love him. I say more about my Wayne, Scott and The Adjustment at Ransom Notes.

And how about Crime Factory 7? Brand new Jordan Harper! First new story not featuring a blond super-genius in a long time. Too long. Also, N@B all-stars Sean Doolittle and Richard Thomas are skulking about with the likes of Pete Risley (did you read Rabid Child? shudder), Nik Korpon, Matthew C. Funk, Don Lafferty, Todd Robinson, Edward A. Grainger, Nathan Cain, Finbarr McCarthy, Mark Richardson, Derek Kelly, James Peak, Frank Wheeler Jr., Guinotte Wise, Andrew Nette, Jon Ashley, David Whish-Wilson, Mitch Tillison and Joelle Charbonneau... Hey, who let the cozy writer in? Also, Chad Eagleton interviews F. Paul Wilson, plus reviews and The Nerd of Noir's double feature. So fork over your free and get to it.

Y'know what else has got a killer lineup? The Velvet anthology Warmed and Bound, that's what. I'm looking at it right now and it's stupid good. 

So... You're coming to N@B Saturday August 6, 7pm at Meshuggah Cafe in the Delmar Loop, yes? You're coming to be shocked and titillated by the likes of Senor Phillips, Jesus Angel Garcia, Jane Bradley and David Cirillo, no? You're coming because Noir at the Bar the anthology will be available for the first time, right?!?!