Thursday, December 27, 2012

Honorable Mentions 2012

Preparing my list of favorite crime films of the year, and found slots seven through thirteen, or so, really nebulous and probably prone to change... daily. So, here're slots eleven to twenty (in alphabetical order) of the flicks I saw in 2012 (not necessarily from the year, but not more than a couple years old).  

Argo - Ben Affleck (2012) You've seen the trailer, right? Then you know the whole story. So, how is it that Argo is such an effective thriller? Technical proficiency, I suppose - though that sounds like a back-handed compliment, and I don't mean for it to. Great staging of true-ish, stranger than fiction events make Affleck three for three as a maker of successful - you won't hate yourself later - fastball down the middle adult popcorn fare. A great cast never hurts either.

Bernie - Richard Linklater (2012) You've seen the trailer for this one, too, huh? Yeah, it's another true story with the whole plot offered up in the advertising, but what makes Bernie so worth watching is the performance from Jack Black. Such a soulful, restrained turn as the enigmatic con-man? (Gigilo? Man-child? Conniver?) Killer. Whether he's out for the money the whole time or really the salt of the earth pushed too far, Bernie is one of the most memorable and complex characters of the year, and Black's rendering ought to win him some major recognition.

Get the Gringo - Adrian Grunberg (2012) Or, Payback 2, as it was probably pitched, works and fails for the same reasons its spiritual parent did. It's Mel Gibson being a scumbag who we align ourselves with because he's smarter, tougher and more up-front about his corruptibility than the other scumbags in the picture. Going for it: Gibson, who could do this schtick in his sleep (and may actually be unconscious throughout),  as the unapologetic hardboiled asshole, and the outrageously corrupt and scary world created (the prison where most of the film's action is set reminded me of nothing so much as Pablo Escobar's detention center - you know, the one he built himself). Working against it: the voice-over insistent on underscoring the humor, and making the character a teddy-bear deep-down after all.

The Guard - John Michael McDonagh (2011) Those McDonagh brothers know how to use Brendan Gleeson, I'll say that. He's rude, crude, semi-corrupt and very effective in his work, and when he's teamed with a straight-laced feeb from the States to investigate an international smuggling ring, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a racially updated remake of 48 Hours, but you'd be mistaken. It's so much more. And less. Unexpected and understated, performance, pacing and tone keep this one from resembling anything else it happens to look like on the surface.

The Last Circus - Alex de la Iglesia (2010) How much is too much? No such thing, apparently. When the first five minutes of a film offer you a frenzied fat man in drag and clown make-up slashing his way through the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, you've got to wonder what it's going to produce for a finale. And you owe it to yourself to find out.

Lawless - John Hillcoat (2012) Expectations working against it, Exhibit A. Had director Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave given us this one before The Proposition, it might've fared better in my eyes. Compared to The Proposition, it's kind of an over-cooked mess, but compared to ninety percent of crime dramas out there, it stands tall. Lots of great period detail, several off the action-flick playbooks moments and a continued Hillcoat/Cave tradition of never giving us an instance of casual onscreen violence (you'll feel every physical violation) make it worth catching up with.
Martha Marcy May Marlene - Sean Durkin (2011) Haunting and dreadful, poetic and pleasing, the story of a young woman (where exactly does it register on the creepy old guy scale if I refer to Elizabeth Olsen as the twins' hotter younger sister?) escaped, and possibly on the run, from a cult led by the much higher than me on the creepy old guy scale John Hawkes. Black and white it's not, and the questions raised in the film's final shot are as intriguing and important as any it answered beforehand - ambiguity used well. Can't wait to see what Durkin does next.

Point Blank - Fred Cavaye (2010) Nothing going on here except first-rate thriller film-making. Doesn't waste a minute, and wrings every ounce of potential tension out of the unraveling plot. A great just-go-with-it chase flick that could teach its high-budget competition a lot about celluloid excitement-making.

Safe House - Daniel Espinosa (2012) I swear I thought this was a Tony Scott flick until the credits rolled. The combination of material, technique and Denzel Washington made it a no-brainer, but lo, it was not after all Scott's swan-song - but what a worthy picture to have worn the mantle. Again, nothing new in plot or character or nuance, just a really solid action film.

Savages - Oliver Stone (2012) Expectations working against it, Exhibit B. Because the book, man. The book really is so much better than the movie, it's hard not to be disappointed. Still, Savages is a good crime flick - going unexpected places and ringing the big obvious bells with gusto (man, those cartel torture sequences are horrific).  Had one of the best scenes of the year - the convoy heist is tits, (also Benicio Del Toro and Shea Whigham's scene is great) - and one of the worst - those last few minutes are a big wet blanket tossed on my (not so) happy ending boner.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Terminal Ferocity

The Nerd of Noir has posted the first review for my new book, Fierce Bitches (it's due February 13 from Crime Factory Books.)  Here's some tasty nerdage:

"if Fierce Bitches is any indication of what’s to come, the guy’s gonna be a fucking titan of crime fiction in no time."

Pre-shate it, Nerd. I've been saying the same thing for ages now. Finally got somebody to agree with me... waiting... still waiting...

Should titan-hood never be bestowed upon me, I'd like to take a guess at who got there first and slammed the door on me.

Jordan Harper's collected short stories American Death Songs will be available in January. Here's a blurb for that one:

"A harrowing, hallowing ode to those whose options boil down to a bullet, a bank or a strange stretch of highway. American Letters has found, in Harper, an agent worthy to take the crime fiction tradition into the 21st century." - Hardboiled Wonderland

This is one baaadass book.

Also: Jake Hinkson's novella The Posthumous Man is just released from David Cranmer's Beat to a Pulp Books. Hinkson's novel Hell on Church Street is one of my favorites of 2012. In fact, I made a list of my favorite debut novels of the year up at Ransom Notes this week. Good company - good news for the future of crime fiction.

Friday, December 21, 2012

N@B Alumni Newsletter Vol. 5

Duane Swierczynski - Wrote tons of funny pages with spandex people, but postponed the climax to his Charlie Hardy trilogy Point & Shoot till 2013. GAAAAARGGH!!!! In Duane's defense, he's busy-ass motherfucker with ninety-nine problems (but my bitching ain't one). I'm sure that the extra time spent on Charlie's book will pay off, but damn... I'm a wee bit impatient.

Dennis Tafoya - Had his novel The Wolves of Fairmount Park optioned and screenwriter Marc Maurino hired to adapt it. If there is a film and it gets anything right, it will feature one or two of the most ridiculously awesome urban gun battles ever captured on screen. Dennis also got another two book deal, so we can look forward to the unique flavor of his own private genre - junkie cozies - for a while longer.

Richard Thomas - Where the hell has Richard not been in 2012? Every time I turn around he's got a new article up at LitReactor or had three more stories published in sundry exotic electronic locale. His collection Herniated Roots was snatched up by Snubnose Press and it offers a wide array of wrong for those with ears to hear. I think he holds the distinction of being the only N@B alum I've ever watched an NBA basketball game with... and probably the only I can ever imagine doing so with again... Oh, maybe Venturini would go for that.

Mark W. Tiedemann - Remains the sole (primarily) science fiction representative among the N@B alum (sure Swierczynski, Thomas and Kindt noodle that direction - but it's Mark's bread and butter). I know he's got more books coming soon, but damned if I know what they are. Track him down at Left Bank Books or a Missouri Center For the Book meeting and interrogate him yourself.

Fred Venturini - Had his great debut novel The Samaritan unpublished. Blank Slate Press originally published it in 2010, but withdrew it from shelves and catalogs for Fred's shot at a larger press (and payday) a few months back. Fred gives his own version of the events and the skinny on his next novel in this interview with Booked.

Benjamin Whitmer - Got so many great notices for his collaborative effort with the late Charlie Louvin, Satan is Real, that six new readers discovered his Matterhorn of kick-dickedness Pike. The French did, anyway - which means that fifty years from now as my grandkids have their own fuckin cultural heritage regurgitated back at them by the rest of the world with all the difficult to digest bits refined away, there's a chance they'll pick up a thread they like and trace it back the influence chain to Whitmer. Then they'll see if they can digest gravel, like we did way back in my day. Check out Whitmer's interview on Booked.

Jonathan Woods - Anybody expecting a novel-length version of one of his stories from Bad Juju when picking up Jonathan's debut novel A Death in Mexico, is in for a surprise. ADIM is a measured, world-weary, weathered and nicely matured. Which isn't to suggest he skimps on stuff like sex and violence - fuck no - just the feel of the book is like a well broken-in pair of shoes rather than something flashy for the night-life. Jonathan also made Scott Montgomery's list of top debut novels of the year on his Mystery People blog. Once you make Montgomery's crosshairs, you've made it.

Nic Young - After traveling all the way from South Africa just to read at N@B, Nic decided to stick around for a while and see Chicago, Kansas City and one or two other spots before hightailing it back to kith and kin to craft more spare, stories of doomed relationships and sexual desperation. Look for more Young ones soon.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

N@B Alumni Newsletter Vol. 4

Derek Nikitas - Or Le Child as he's known to... nobody has his head and a large portion of his upper body trapped inside the massive doorstop he's writing about Aleister Crowley, H.P. Lovecraft and W.B. Yeats. Dunno when it'll see the dark of night, but it's gonna be epic, and not about math.

Dan O'Shea - Got happy this year. His short story collection Old School escaped the Snubnose Press vaults, and news shortly broke that he'd landed a two book deal that'll bear fruit in 2013 with the release of Penance. I saw Dan in Chicago and did an event with him in Cleveland too, which makes me important by association. 

Scott Phillips - Got a paperback release on his short story collection Rum, Sodomy & the False Eyelash as well as a French-first novel Nocturne, which'll be released in English by Counterpoint at the beginning of summer and going by the name Rake. It's a first for several reasons for Scott: it's set in Paris (I was going to say - it's not set in Kansas, but then Rut was set in Colorado), it's set today, and as far as I can tell, there aren't any of the Ogden family represented. It also has one of the straightest narrative drives of any Phillips novel (save perhaps The Ice Harvest, but even that one took two-thirds of the book to fully reveal). Don't worry, still plenty of assholish world-views on display... gaping actually, lots and lots and lots of sex, abuse of writers and plenty of violence, including our 'hero' defending himself against a pregnant mugger - it's so wrong.
Robert J. Randisi - Closes in on six hundred novels published and an even bazillion short stories and anthologies edited. Christine Matthews had to pry him away from his worn to shit keyboard just to get him to appear and read at an event in February (anybody wanna take a guess how many keyboards he went through in 2012?) Despite the title of his latest Rat Pack mystery, Randisi holds his place as the last of the true pulp writers. I don't see anybody providing a legit challenge to that title anytime soon. 

John Rector - At Bouchercon he celebrated 100,000 copies of last year's Already Gone sold, and aside from surviving a hail of sissy slap attacks from jealous writers released the novella Lost Things and contributed the first story I flipped over to Noir at the Bar Vol. 2 - In The Kitchen With Rachael Ray. I think the book is worth the price for this one alone, kids. 

Caleb J. Ross - Okay, now this is weird. The three sickest stories in N@B2 are the Randisi/Matthews, Rector and Ross contributions and now, here they are all in a row in the newsletter - coincidence? Hmmm, I guess if Keaton were also here I couldn't ignore that shit, but I'm turning my back on any signs from the universe this morning. Ross is a force to reckon with, churning out great, weird stories (and novels) and keeping up The World's First Author Blog where he engages many stripes of contemporary literature - primarily through pithy, slick YouTube videos. Smart, insightful and irreverent, he's utilizing the author-as-cultural-presence tools of the 21st century better than anybody I know... of know of.

Theresa Schwegel - It's been three and a half years since we got a Schwegel injection, and I got really excited when I saw there was a film called Officer Down coming out, 'cause I always knew here debut novel would make a great flick... alas, not based on her book, (but hey, Katherine Bigelow - I still think that'd be a great project for you). Looking forward to Some Beasts and The Interrupter (a graphic novel!) from Theresa.

Anthony Neil Smith - Bailed from the Twitterverse, and I missed his caustic blasts of un-stingy with the mini-opinions, but then he popped up again with a new identity and news of a new book! He's contributed vol. 16 to the Lee Goldberg/William Rabkin series The Dead Man: Colder Than Hell - due in January. Check him out reading a short meth and murder story written from POV of his dog, Herman right here.

Malachi Stone - Keeps us up to date on the Bellville, IL. and St. Louis, MO. criminal over-belly with his Perverts on Parade posts on Facebook - thanks, Mal. Meantime he publishes lotsa witty, smutty books under his pseudonym of necessity. Insights buried beneath an avalanche of dicks and pussies and assholes. Go ahead and dig for 'em. It's not boring.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

N@B Alumni Newsletter Vol. 3

David James Keaton - Got the pleasure of my company in Chicago, St. Louis and Corydon readings, and he showed me up every damn time. After the novellas Zee Bee & Bee and Tap Tap Tap (his contribution to Uncle B.'s Drive-In Fiction and which you can hear him read from in this here podcast), short stories in a shit ton of anthologies, keeping his place at the top of the mountain at Flywheel magazine and getting married, he's finally compiling a hella those stories into one book. Fish Bites Cop is a wild-ass ride and coming your way in 2013. Duck.

Matt Kindt - had a banner fucking year. Took the helm on Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. and launched his own wild, original and wildly original monthly Mind MGMT (whose first issue is getting a re-print, kids! - the first trade won't be out till April). This one oughtta put him at the top of anybody's list of top complete package talent working in comics today.

Chris La Tray - Had fiction appear in Blood & Tacos, All Due Respect and Needle as well as rocking the all-American heavy metal sounds of thunder outta Missoula, Montana. 

Tim Lane - Continues to produce his weekly strip Belligerent Piano as well as providing historical Americana and illustrations for The Believer, The New York Times, The Nation, Riverfront Times, Seattle Weekly and on and on and... In 2013 I'm particularly looking forward to more Happy Hour in America and a collaborative effort with Anthony Bourdain, but most of all I'm looking forward to that bright, sunshiny day when we get another Fantagraphics book of collected Lane stories. Some. Day. Soon?

Erik Lundy - cracks my shit up. Not only does he write some seriously wrong prose fiction, he produces the ever-entertaining Billy Badass comics and The Knuckle Sammich website with advice from a badass and badass recipes to boot. His great graphic designs graced Plots With Guns, Hard Labour and Noir at the Bar Vol. 2 (and his story Shoot-Out at the KY Corral opened that book 'cause you gotta have a grabber of an opening line for them books and "Where do you keep the buttplugs." fits all of this editor's criteria).

Jason Makansi - When he's not writing non-fiction books on energy or  playing some behind the scenes supporting role at Blank Slate Press (which he co-founded), Makansi writes fiction, and I'm wishing that The Moment Before would hurry the hell up and finish itself so's I could have a crack at it.

Matthew McBride - 2012 winds down with a proper paperback publication of Frank Sinatra in a Blender from New Pulp Press and news of an eventual audio book from Blackstone - now that's gonna be a great listen, I'd bet my paycheck. He also made Scott Montgomery's list of Top 5 Debut Authors at the Mystery People blog. You wanna hear Matt read his fucking excellent short story The Tar Hole? Yeah you do. Find it in the archives at Booked after you listen to this interview.

Jon McGoran - Preparing to leave behind D.H. Dublin? Dunno, but McGoran is going ahead and publishing under his very own name, and Drift (coming in spring 2013) sounds like a corker. 

Cortright McMeel - while finishing up his second novel Cagefighter, Cort  has kept a secret identity or two as well as publishing and contributing to Noir Nation and Bare Knuckles Press. But to hell with all that noise, Cort's one of the proud pappys of N@B-Denver (along with Jon Bassoff and Benjamin Whitmer). Man, do I need to get out to one of those events.

Kyle Minor - While impatiently awaiting Kyle's second collection Praying Drunk from Sarabande (in 2014 - WTF?!?) you have your opportunity graciously extended to catch up with his first book In the Devil's Territory before everyfuckingbody in the whole entire universe claims they were way into Minor before he was the undisputed shit in American letters. Give a listen to an excerpt from his story The Truth & All Its Ugly right here.

Aaron Michael Morales - Continued bringing the Southwest to the Midwest with New Mexican Drive By in N@B2 and his job molding young minds at Indiana State University. Oh, young, mold-able, fresh, nubile minds... yum.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

N@B Alumni Newsletter Vol. 2

Les Edgerton - Writes some cuddly fiction, yes? The Rapist always follows The Bitch, no? Wow. Just read his latest and it's a happy, happy time - novella, too! Watch out, he knows where you go to screw in the woods. 

C.J. Edwards - Read at two events I was at this year. He had stories appear in Needle, Plots With Guns and a novella in the collection Uncle B's Drive-In Fiction. Dude's busy as shit and has a new dog.

Matthew C. Funk - 's 2012 appearances include the brand new Thuglit, Out of the Gutter, Shotgun Honey, Blood & Tacos, GriftProtectors, Pulp Ink 2, Pulp Modern, Crime Factory and Uncle B's Drive-In Fiction. Check out this interview with Matt on Booked

Jesus Angel Garcia - is also a film maker and plays some dirty-ass blue grass with his band Three Times Bad (3XBad). If you're looking for a companion to his novel badbadbad you should Take the V-Train to San Francisco or a music festival near you.

Kent Gowran - Stepped away from his baby, the flash fiction site Shotgun Honey, but came back to edit the site's first print anthology Both Barrels. He also had a piece of his own in Needle, held my hand through the first ever screening of FLOST, entertained the hell out me in Cleveland and drank me under the table at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis.

Glenn Gray - I wonder sometimes whether Dr. Glenn's patients ever read his fiction. If so, are they horrified by the sheer volume and variety of awful things that can and do happen to the human body, or are they comforted - knowing that their doctor has spent loads and loads of time mentally preparing for the worst and so they're in good hands? Shit if I know, but you're definitely in good hands if he's playing host - generous motherfucker that Gray. Deliriously deranged fiction this year in Protectors, Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels and Needle (same story as N@B2 - which is a change-up for Gray... lotta heart in that one too).

Kevin Lynn Helmick - This Chicagoan made the St. Louis N@B scene twice in 2012 in support of two different books! He read in February for his then brand new Heartland Gothic and in November for his just-released novella Driving Alone.  

Gordon Highland - Keeps things nasty on the other end of the state, and it's good to know he's over there in K.C. keeping us from getting too high on our St. Louis is the sickest city in Missouri Kool-Aid crystals. His latest novel Flashover has some heart and not a little bit of soul to boot... huh, new territory. 

John Hornor Jacobs - is garnering some major kudos for his after-the-zompocalypse novel This Dark Earth, and while I probably won't read this one to my kids, I'm stoked to check out the first volume of his YA trilogy coming early in 2013 - The Twelve-Fingered Boy (not to be confused with that little-seen sequel to Freddy Got Fingered - The Twelfth Fingered Boy).

Liam Jose - Made an unexpected journey across the ocean blue to our fair shores just before that bitch Sandy severely altered the coastline. But he's had a good sampling of this American life thanks to authors in many cities who've got him so hopped up on the red, white & blue that this boat-person may never go home. Dirty immigrant. Ah well, he's welcome back at N@B anytime, as long as he can keep pumping out Juan Hundred stories as well as the good shit at Crime Factory (check out his great interview with Jack Ketchum in Horror Factory).