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Songs About Dead People by Stephen Blackmoore

February 11, 2013 by  •
I am always fascinated by what music, if any, authors use to fuel their writing fire, so it is with great pleasure that I welcome Stephen Blackmoore to the blog today. Not only is he here to talk about his newest release, Dead Things, the followup to last year’s highly successful City of the Lost, but he’s going to share a little about the grooves he finds compelling enough to move both him and the dead.

Stephen BlackmooreA lot of writers find their inspiration in music. Songs that speak to them, songs that help them tell their stories.

I’m no different. Like a lot of writers I put together a playlist for whatever book I’m working on. The songs help me keep the thread of the story when I’m not actively writing. The downside is that I’ll put together this list, add to it throughout the duration of the project, and that will be pretty much the only thing I listen to for months on end.

I did this when I wrote DEAD THINGS, an urban fantasy about a necromancer, Eric Carter, who’s forced to come back to Los Angeles after fifteen years to find his sister’s murderer. There’s a lot of death in the story. The guy’s a necromancer. He sees ghosts, talks to them, makes them dance. But the core of the story is about dealing with change. Fifteen years is a long time and when Carter comes back to a home he thought he’d never see again, he’s forced to deal with the fallout of his leaving.

So when I picked out songs I chose ones that spoke to me about the characters, specific story points or the themes I was working with. A lot of them deal with death, or change or making bad decisions. Themes that DEAD THINGS is about. And then I listened to them. A LOT.

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The Green Lady by Paul Johnston

February 8, 2013 by  •
The Green Lady by Paul Johnston“Screw the devil. We’re in Hades’ kingdom, and we have to get out.” – Alex Mavros

As the 2004 Summer Olympics descend upon Athens, half Scots half Greek private investigator Alex Mavros finds himself living with best friend Yiorgos Pandazopoulos (a.k.a. the Fat Man), having finally been kicked to the curb by his perpetually high-strung, and slightly unstable, girlfriend, Niki.

And while the Fat Man is having an intense love-hate relationship with the games–the unabashed Communist is appalled at the obscene amount of money being spent…but loves sitting in front of the TV going on about it–Mavros would just assume have a break from it all.

That opportunity presents itself in the guise of a new job, when he’s approached by the wife of one of Greece’s wealthiest businessmen, Paschos Poulou, with the request that Mavros find their fourteen-year-old daughter, who’s been missing for over three months. Surprised he’d not heard about it before, Mavros is informed that the family has keep a media blackout on the situation, and has been telling friends the girl is on a trip abroad.

Instructed not to talk to the police, who are conducting their own investigation, or any of the family’s friends or associates, Mavros finds himself in the frustrating position of starting an investigation without being able to pursue any of the normal avenues of inquiry one would explore in a missing persons case. Events take an even more bizarre turn when the bodies of two people who were tortured before their deaths turn up in the vicinity of the two towns Mavros manages to follow his smattering of clues to. Neither of the victims is the missing girl, yet there’s something familiar to Mavros about the manner of their death…something which signifies a potentially deadly turn of events for the PI.

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The Silver Stain by Paul Johnston

February 7, 2013 by  •
Paul Johnston“Crete isn’t like the rest of Greece, my friend. We have our own ways of justice.” – Haris Tsifakis

When Athens, Greece based private investigator Alex Mavros is hired by a Hollywood production company to help locate a missing member of the crew, he pretty much assumes he’ll be heading into a strange new world.

Of course, he thought that strange new world would be the hustle and bustle of a big time Hollywood production, not the island of Crete. As he soon discovers, however, Cretans have their own way of doing things, a way foreign to even other Greeks.

Mavros is tasked with finding the personal assistant of the film’s leading lady, something the local authorities haven’t shown much interest in as the missing woman is an adult and there are no signs of foul play.

The film’s producer and director have given Mavros the green light to do whatever he needs, however, as their star is refusing to work until her friend is found. Mavros is good at what he does–he’s never failed to find a missing person–and before too long he’s managed to track the woman down.

And that’s when the mysteries really start to pile up.

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Bringing a PI Back from the Dead by Paul Johnston

February 6, 2013 by  •
I am incredibly pleased to welcome frequent visitor Paul Johnston (he has his own category in the site archive) back to the blog today. From psychological thrillers to mysteries to futuristic to poetry, the man can write it all. Today he’s here to explain how you can’t keep a good character down…even if there is a seven year hiatus.

Paul JohnstonBringing a PI Back from the Dead

No, not Sherlock. Between 2001 and 2004, I wrote three novels featuring half Greek half Scots missing persons investigator, Alex Mavros. I studied ancient Greek when I was a kid, then the modern language and literature at university; I lived on a small Aegean island for six years in the 90s; and I now spend most of my time in Nafplio, a beautiful seaside town in the Peloponnese. So writing novels set in Greece was inevitable. The career of Mavros has been less straightforward.

The first three novels came out in rapid succession: A Deeper Shade of Blue (later republished as Crying Blue Murder) in 2002; The Last Red Death (winner of the Sherlock Award for Best Detective Novel and featured/reviewed earlier on this site) in 2003; and The Golden Silence in 2004. I was following a template laid down by the late, lamented Michael Dibdin in his excellent Aurelio Zen series set in Italy – use a different location for each book, forcing your detective to come to terms with different customs, mentalities and so on (Zen was a cop rather than a PI, but the principle holds). This meant I could create a composite picture of Greece, alluding both to the modern world and each region’s complex back story, from ancient through Byzantine, Frankish, Ottoman and modern times. Greece really is one of those countries that has too much history.

Being an ambitious fool, I also wanted to make every book different in terms of its location within the crime and thriller genre. Crying Blue Murder was a rural noir set on an island full of white houses; The Last Red Death was a political thriller that rooted contemporary terrorism in World War Two and the terrible Civil War that ensued; and The Golden Silence was an urban gangster story.


Sparkle by Rudy Yuly

February 6, 2013 by  •
Sparkle Rudy YulyFeeling bad about lousy business was equivalent to wishing someone would get killed. The job was ghoulish enough as it was. – Joe Jones

Death is in the news every day, and if people stop to give it a second thought they most likely think of the void left in the lives of the living, the emotional mess it creates when someone dies or is killed. Very few people, however, think about the nuts and bolts of death–the literal mess it makes.

Brothers Joe and Eddie Jones have not only thought about it, they’ve made it their business. Literally. Sparkle Cleaners, their Seattle-based janitorial service, specializes in crime scene cleanups. Theirs is a unique tag team, with Joe acting as the face of the business and Eddie the actual cleanup man. And anyone who’s ever used Sparkle Cleaners will tell you, no one can clean a crime scene like Eddie.

He’s so good, Sparkle Cleaners gets the inside line on jobs from members of the Seattle PD, including Detectives Louis and Bjorgesen. When they call Joe to schedule the cleanup of a triple murder–a husband, wife, and their six-year-old daughter–they couldn’t possibly have foreseen the chain of events that would unfold…or that it would get even more complicated when Sparkle is assigned to the cleanup of a seemingly unrelated massacre of six people at a club in Chinatown.


Crafting Sparkle by Rudy Yuly

February 4, 2013 by  •
There are so many books released every year, even when you narrow it down to just your preferred genre it is simply impossible to keep up. Unfortunately, that often means some really great work slips by unnoticed. That almost happened to me with Sparkle by Rudy Yuly. Released last year, Sparkle had slipped under my radar until the folks at Crime Fiction Lover named it one of the Top Five Books of 2012 (and you know that carries some weight). My review of Sparkle is forthcoming, but today let Rudy tell you a little about how his gem of a novel came to be. And don’t wait for my review, go pick this one up now.

Rudy YulyEver since I was barely a teen and saw a teacher light up over my first attempt at a short story, I’ve been utterly hooked on sharing ideas through writing. But it was never one particular kind of writing that got me excited. It was every kind.

Since then I’ve been blessed to go deep into just about every kind of writing imaginable. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, a magazine editor, and a marketing writer. I’ve written a nonfiction reference book (the World Business Desk Reference) and multiple screenplays. I’ve written annual reports and national ad campaigns. I’ve published short stories and papers for academic journals. I’ve written major corporate websites. I’ve written error messages and invisible labels to help blind people navigate the Web. I’ve written songs, including one (“Naked”) recorded by Joan Jett. I’ve ghostwritten fiction and nonfiction books—and helped edit many others.

I’ve had work assignments ranging from 70,000 words to 70 characters. I’ve mastered the Hero’s journey and the inverted pyramid. I can switch from AP to Chicago to corporate stylebooks with ease (and some cross-referencing).

Each new writing challenge was a chance to improve my craft, to sharpen tools for the day inspiration hit—so I’d have what I needed to do justice to the muse if and when she decided to visit.


Piggyback by Tom Pitts

February 1, 2013 by  •
Piggyback by Tom PittsHe was all-business in a business full of fools.

You know that saying, a friend will help you move; a true friend will help you move a body? Yeah, well, if you pick the wrong friend you could actually end up with more bodies, and in deeper trouble. That’s what loser drug runner Paul finds out when one of the shipments he was responsible for goes missing and he turns to friend and fellow drug runner, Jimmy, for help.

You see, where Paul’s mostly a lovable fuckup, Jimmy’s a bit closer to the scary-ass psycho end of the personality spectrum. So when Paul asks for help locating the missing shipment of pot–70 pounds worth that just happened to have 5 kilos of coke piggybacked with it–Jimmy kicks into serious take no prisoners mode…which is highly unfortunate for the two college girls Paul sent on the road with the shipment three days prior.

And with that one chapter setup, Piggyback slams things into high gear as Jimmy and Paul hit the highway for a road trip from hell of a novella. Working with ruthless efficiency, Jimmy decides to go back to square one and retrace the steps the shipment, and the girls, should have taken.

Along the way there are encounters with fellow drug runners, the girls’ wannabe tough-guy boyfriends, some hillbilly tweakers, and a set of parents who are never going to win Mom & Pop of the Year. And all of it unfolds with the darkest of humor and a realism so gritty you can taste it.


Literary Pet Peeve #26 by Tom Pitts

January 31, 2013 by  •
So, if you write songs it should be easy peasy to write stories…right? Not so, says Piggyback (Snubnose Press) author–and musician–Tom Pitts, not even close. Sit back and allow Tom to vent a little about one of his literary pet peeves, why don’t you?

Tom PittsWhen I was young I was in a band. I know, I know, who wasn’t? I was the guy by the microphone stand, hitting A-chords and holding my right hand up in the air while I shouted the lyrics. The glory-whore in need of endless attention. I was also the principal songwriter in the group. It was supposedly my forte (‘cause God knows I could barely play that guitar.) Back then, people always said, “You’d make a great writer. Your songs can really tell a story.” Some of the time I believed them. Now, people say, “Com’on, Tom. You were a songwriter; it’s got to easy to write a book.”

I’m not sure why people have always assumed such a connection between the two. It’s a little like saying, “Hey, you’re a painter, you’ve got to be good a making pastries.” The two are mutually exclusive. There is a fundamental difference in how one approaches either task.

Music, lyrically speaking, is made up of word-play. Catchy phrasing that sounds somehow familiar to the ear. Lyrics that, when shadowed with a double entendre, can take a commonplace idiom and twist it to give it a profound relevance. Need examples? Look no further than any country song. Country music is rife with puns and word-play. Them good ol’ boys take it to the extreme. Thank you George Jones for lines like, “I’ve learned to stand on my own two knees,” or Charlie Pride’s more subtle, “She’s too good to be true.” You know who else is masterful at that stuff? Elvis Costello, a craftsman whose examples are too many to list. (Okay, just one, “I’d step on the brakes to get out of her clutches.”) Don’t get me started on puns for album names either, from Rubber Soul to Aladdin Sane, the examples are endless.


Prohibition by Terrence McCauley

January 29, 2013 by  •
Terrence McCauley“I’ve never been smart enough to know when to quit.” – Terry Quinn

For former boxer turned mob enforcer Terry Quinn, not being smart enough to know when to quit has been both his lifelong blessing and curse. Once on track to fight for the heavyweight title, his refusal to take a dive in a fixed fight – opting to kill his opponent in the ring instead – lead to his license being revoked and his career derailed.

As one door closed another opened, however, and through it walked crime boss Archie Doyle. A man with tremendous ambition, Doyle knew he’d need a dependable crew around him to reach his goals, and he wanted Quinn to be his right-hand man. His prospects severely limited, Quinn accepted, and the two never looked back.

A decade later, Doyle’s 1930s New York City empire–illicit gambling clubs, bootlegging and speakeasies–is still managing to do well at the outset of the Great Depression, but he’s smart enough to understand the gravy train won’t last forever and hatches a plan to set himself up for life beyond Prohibition.

When one of his key lieutenants is the target of an assassination attempt, Doyle sends Quinn to question the right-hand man of his rival. Things go incredibly sideways, and before he knows it Quinn is at the center of an all-out gang war. With Doyle’s competition swearing he had no involvement in the hit, and the once complacent–and on the payroll–cops and politicians getting antsy, Quinn must figure out who’s really behind the escalating violence if there’s any hope of salvaging Doyle’s big plan…and for them all to stay alive.


Tenacity vs. Obstinacy by Terrence McCauley

January 28, 2013 by  •
Today Terrence McCauley is here to reflect on the difference between tenacity and obstinacy in the life of a writer, and how which one chooses to embrace makes all the difference in the world. It certainly did for him, as his first novel, the Depression-era gangster yarn Prohibition, was published to great reviews just last month.

Terrence McCauleyIn my opinion, there’s only one thing more important to an artist than following your dream: the manner in which you go about it.

In my long quest to be published, I endured a lot of the same rotten things many other writers experience throughout their career. Broken promises. Agents who disappeared. Plans that remained on the drawing board gathering dust. People who lost interest in my work. All of which eventually lead to self-doubt and a lack of confidence on my part.

At every roadblock, someone would invariably tell me to just give up and go do something else like golf or skiing. Save myself the heartache of rejection and disappointment. Walk away with some of my dignity intact. After all, I’d won a national contest. Why not rest on my laurels and leave it at that?

And while I flirted with the idea of walking away from writing, I never left it for long. Why? Because I’m a writer and writers write! I didn’t choose this. It’s always been a part of who I am, and I could no sooner give up writing than I could decide to give up walking. Sure, I could do it, but why do so, especially when the ability was there? So, I kept on writing the stories I wanted to tell. I kept looking for an outlet for them and, after a whole lot of searching, I did.


Doghouse Blues by Jason Duke

January 22, 2013 by  •
In somewhat of a departure, today on the blog I’m pleased to be hosting a short story by Jason Duke. Jason’s fiction has appeared in publications including Plots With Guns, Thuglit, Spinetingler Magazine, Crimefactory, Needle Magazine, and A Twist of Noir, and he has also previously stopped by here as a guest reviewer. Jason is not just any old author, however, he is also a U.S. Army and Iraqi war veteran, and his time in the service clearly shows through in this piece, “Doghouse Blues.”

Jason Duke“Fuck you,” said Matt Sherman, looking into outer space. The kid was as thin as cellophane, and just as transparent. So thin, in fact, if he took a hard punch to the chest, or any punch for that matter to any part of his body, Jim figured Matt Sherman would fly apart like splinters of dry, brittle wood.

Jim Pride, looking over his shoulder, began to guess at who the other person the kid was talking to; thought, no way this little beanpole shit spat from an anorexic’s twat would be running his mouth to two hundred and twenty pounds of ex-military muscle. But Matt, staring past Jim off into the great wide open of the broiling city that was Phoenix beyond the apartment’s terrace, kept saying, “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you…” Meanwhile, Jim was the only one standing at the front door.

Matt finally looked Jim in the eye. Listening to the little prick run his mouth, Jim was shaking his head, thinking, Kid, this isn’t rocket science. The reason Jim was paying the visit wasn’t all that complicated, so shouldn’t be hard to understand. Jim was thinking, by now it should be so simple stupid that even an ignorant little flop like Matt Sherman should understand what Jim was telling him, why Jim was standing there at the door.

At least, that was how it all started out; and now it was all going terribly wrong (Jim couldn’t believe how fucking wrong), and the kid was running his big, fat fucking mouth, telling off the invisible person over Jim’s shoulder. So wrong, in fact, Jim decided he needed to take a moment with it, collect his thoughts, and try explaining himself all over again.