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Always Judge A Book By Its Movie Poster by David James Keaton

September 12, 2014 by  •
Pleased today to welcome David James Keaton back to the blog. Those in the crime fiction community will no doubt know David from his work in places like Noir At The Bar, Beat To A Pulp, Needle, Pulp Modern, Shotgun Honey and Thuglit, among others. His collection of short stories, Fish Bites Cop!, was well received by both readers and critics alike. Today, David is here to talk about the evolution of the cover for his newest release, The Last Projector (Broken River Books – October 31, 2014).

David James Keaton“Always judge a book by its cover.” – Dave’s dad.

So Broken River Books recently unveiled the cover art for my upcoming novel, The Last Projector, and since it’s gotten such a great response (the cover, I mean) and I’ve fielded more than a few email inquiries about the artist and the strange cover concept, and because Elizabeth White has a great venue for these kinda guest musings I figured I’d throw down some back story for the curious on this artwork’s long, strange journey to completion.

Initially, because of the novel’s obsessions with movies and videos, when J. David Osborne and I brainstormed ideas, we considered a schematic for a film projector, like one of those exploded blueprints, and/or some sort of swirl of videotape. I was also a big fan of Matthew Revert’s cover of Stephen Graham Jones’ The Last Final Girl and how it had those seams on the image to remind people of the traditional “four-sheets” from the heyday of movie posters.

This started me thinking less about the more obvious “projector” idea and more about movie posters. Because thinking about movie posters is way more fun. So we talked and talked about how we thought movie posters had taken a nosedive as far as creativity, almost always cashing in on the fame of the star with what I called the typical “giant famous head” design (see any Tom Cruise film for examples of this). But before the invasion of the heads, movie posters were amazing.

Also affecting the design was Broken River’s new venture into hardcovers. Mr. Osborne wanted this to be their first hardcover, and thought of this release as more of event, a more collectable work of art. Not to take away from his distinct paperback covers, and the Matthew Revert designs for their first dozen publications which had already made their own splash. He just thought a hardcover should look a little different to justify its existence. And I had fond memories of dust jackets that were almost as action-packed as those movie posters way back when.

Well, maybe some softer scenery, and maybe not quite the heroic poses, but there definitely used to be a lot more going on, wasn’t there? Looking around at my ‘70’s and ‘80’s hardcovers, Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline and The Great Santini had a movie poster feel, I thought, even though it was more respectable heads leading the charge in the image rather than war-torn, cigar-chomping soldiers or grizzled cops. V.C. Andrews covers were fun, too, with those die-cut false fronts and the spooky faces waiting behind them like an evil curtain call, the art casting weird shadows, like they had flashlights under their chins ready to scare you over the campfire. Stephen King’s hardcover for The Shining was a good example, too, although at some point publishers must have realized his name was all they needed.

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James Thompson: 1964 – 2014

August 6, 2014 by  •
I had the good fortune to both enjoy the writing of James Thompson, author of the Kari Vaara series, as well as to engage with him for several very personal, in-depth interviews. So it was with incredible sadness that I opened an email two days ago from a longtime friend of Jim’s informing me of Jim’s untimely passing.

James ThompsonThough I never met Jim in person, we did talk fairly regularly via email, and he joked that doing one of those “soul-baring interviews” had come to be part of his book release ritual that he most looked forward to.

Today I do my little part to help people enjoy and celebrate Jim’s life and work with links to my reviews of his writing and interviews with him.

Helsinki Blood by James Thompson

The Culture Must Change to End the Slaughter – An Interview With James Thompson

Helsinki White by James Thompson

Will I Be Assassinated? – An Interview With James Thompson

Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson

My Life Just Isn’t Anybody Else’s Business by James Thompson

Snow Angels by James Thompson (Nominated for Edgar, Anthony and Strand Critics awards.)

My sincere condolences to his friends and family, both in his adopted home of Finland and in his home state of Kentucky.

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Reaching for the Light by Sam Hawken

June 6, 2014 by  •
Very pleased to welcome Sam Hawken back to the blog. For my money, Sam Hawken is one of the most underrated authors working in crime fiction today, and it’s been my pleasure to both read and review Sam’s novels, such as The Dead Women of Juárez and Juárez Dance, as well as work with him on the Camaro Espinoza novellas (currently on hiatus). Sam’s novel Tequila Sunset, which has already had a successful run in the UK, is set for its official US release next week (though some outlets are already selling it).

Two years ago saw the US release of my debut novel, The Dead Women of Juárez. Nominated for a Crime Writers Association John Creasy New Blood Dagger — whew, that’s a long name! — it had garnered some degree of critical and commercial success in the UK, where it was first published. When it hit over here, however, it made no impact at all. Few copies were sold and fewer readers were satisfied with what they read. One memorable Goodreads review declared that the book “commits entertainment suicide” at the midpoint, when a major plot twist kicks in. Not exactly the sort of thing that breeds confidence. People didn’t like the characters, they didn’t like the setting and they weren’t all that interested in the plight of the real dead women of Juárez, the victims of what Mexicans call the feminicidios.

I wrote another Mexico-set novel after The Dead Women, this one called Tequila Sunset. It was likewise critically lauded and the Crime Writers Association again nominated it for an award, this time the far more easily named Gold Dagger. This was satisfying, as you might expect. To make matters even more gratifying, Tequila Sunset did so well in the UK that it even went bestseller. And when the book was tapped for an American release, Publishers Weekly and Booklist raved. This was a whole other level, and it got me thinking about what was so different about this book than the one that came before.

The Dead Women is essentially two interlocking stories with lead characters who are, shall we say, deeply flawed. There is very little light in the novel and it both turns and ends on bleak notes. Some got what I was going for and even liked it, but I think it’s safe to say most didn’t. Entertainment suicide, indeed.

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Hustle by Tom Pitts

May 2, 2014 by  •
Piggyback by Tom PittsHe hated Rich for his cynicism, for his instinctual inability to trust anyone. He didn’t want to end up that way, with that black hole for a heart.

Street hustler Donny is wise to be concerned about that path he’s walking. Though relatively new to the life of a male prostitute turning tricks with gay men in order to fund his drug habit, he’s already been in long enough to know it’s a fast track to a dead end. Donny doesn’t have to look far to see what lies in store for him, after all.

Big Rich, Donny’s friend and mentor of sorts, has been in the life longer than any of the other guys working the corner in San Francisco’s notorious Tenderloin where Donny plies his trade. And while Donny’s learned some valuable lessons for staying alive and getting over from Rich, there’s no denying they’re both going nowhere fast, spinning their wheels waiting for the next high or the next john, whichever happens to be on deck.

The opportunity to escape the boomerang cycle of drugs-hooking-drugs presents itself in the form of Gabriel Thaxton, one of Rich’s routine customers. Thaxton is a wealthy, well-known defense attorney, one Rich is convinced will be willing to pay handsomely to keep his proclivity for young, gay men a secret.

Rich’s plan is for the two of them to use a cell phone to record Thaxton in a compromising position, then threaten to upload it to YouTube unless they’re paid off—a seemingly solid, if sleazy, plan. It would have been, that is, if Thaxton weren’t already so far down the blackmail rabbit hole he’s willing to go to extreme measures to get out from under it, enlisting the help of a biker ex-client of his to do whatever it takes to remove the threat. If they don’t watch their step, Donny and Rich may just end up collateral damage in a situation far beyond their control.

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The Ex-Soldiers: Butterfly Road by Jason Duke

May 1, 2014 by  •
In somewhat of a departure, today on the blog I’m pleased to present the first chapter of a serialized novel by Jason Duke, The Ex-Soldiers, that we are working on and will be rolling out here on the site in the months to come. Jason’s fiction has appeared in publications including Plots With Guns, Thuglit, Spinetingler Magazine, Crimefactory, Needle Magazine, and A Twist of Noir. 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 The Ex-Soldiers. So, enjoy the first chapter, “Butterfly Road,” and be on the lookout for more to come.

Jason DukeThe Ex-Soldiers
Chapter One: Butterfly Road

The interstate west of Gila Bend, Arizona cut a wide swath through the vast Sonoran desert. There, the long road appeared to run on forever into the deep blue distance of the horizon under the thin sheet of gauze cloud in the azure sky. It was seven in the morning. Long-armed sprinklers were spraying what looked like alfalfa in the wide green fields each side of the interstate. Heat was already up, rippling on the air and turning much of the water into steam, rising, shimmering and, finally, scattering in the oven-heated wind.

The Sergeant gazed out on the wide blue heaven and baked landscape hell below. He wondered why Hensley had attempted to smuggle her across in the midsummer; the worst time. Desperation? If that was true, then his love for the girl had turned him into a desperate fool. Now Hensley was…well, the Sergeant was not sure exactly. He did not know what became of the ex-soldier. That was what he was here to find out.

He looked to the dashboard, rechecked the locator device. Then he saw them: the yellow butterflies in the busy road. Hundreds of ‘em. Bright yellow wings with intensely orange wingtips bounded by black markings, though from his vantage point behind the steering wheel of the Jeep, the butterflies looked all yellow. Hensley was the real sap when it came to animals and little creatures, like the butterflies of the Earth. Yet, killing a thing so beautiful hurt the Sergeant, too. He knew the world was getting uglier. It needed more beautiful things. In his heart, he was not cruel, was not a terrible man—although he’d done many cruel and terrible things. The Sergeant wished there were another road. But there wasn’t another road. Only this road. He had no choice. He needed to arrive at the coordinates in the desert; the exact coordinates Gun had given him. And before it got too dark.

Rechecked the locator device. The coordinates pointed far into the desert. He still had a ways to travel.

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Big Money by Jack Getze

April 30, 2014 by  •
Here it is again, that special Austin Carr moment when I know I am about to speak words that will produce inevitable, disastrous repercussions.

Stockbroker Austin Carr can be forgiven for his somewhat bleak outlook. After all, the divorced father of two is barely on the comeback trail following a pretty rough series of events in the first entry in the series, Big Numbers.

Big Money, the second chance for readers to take Carr for a spin, finds Austin serving as a consultant/advisor at the investment firm he’s a part owner of, Shore Securities, while he waits for the suspension on his license to be lifted.

Trouble is, it may not matter whether or not he gets that license back, because Shore is being investigated by the feds for allegedly commingling funds, a problem his boss, Vic Bonacelli, leaves Austin to handle while Vic runs off to Tuscany. Of course, if that were the only problem Austin had to deal with he may still be okay.

Instead, he’s also saddled with keeping an eye on Vic’s daughter, who’s in the midst of a messy breakup, and Vic’s mother, the infamous Mama Bones, who’s been known to have a hand in some underhanded dealings involving bookmaking…and bingo fixing. (Don’t ask.)

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This Thing of Ours by Jack Getze

April 28, 2014 by  •
Anyone who’s been around the crime fiction community for any length of time knows the name Jack Getze. In addition to serving as the Fiction Editor for Spinetingler Magazine, Jack is an accomplished author himself, his work having appeared in A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp and The Big Adios, among others. Today I’m pleased to welcome Jack for a guest post in conjunction with his Austin Carr Mystery series (Big Numbers and Big Money having been reissued by Down and Out Books), wherein Jack proves that, once again, sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction, and that some authors have very deep wells from which to pull for inspiration.

He was short, dark and handsome, with thick black hair and tunneling eyes that could warm you with a twinkle or drive you away with quick, venomous anger. The ex-boxer’s temper and willingness to fight were legendary, but so was his generosity, and so was his love for Sam, the German Sheppard who went with him everywhere. In the car or on his leash, the tri-colored, one hundred pound dog named Sam was Domenic’s closest friend.

“We’d be loafing on the job, smoking,” one of his former workmen recalled. “We’d see and hear that huge dog of his in plenty of time to get back to work before Dom arrived. We fooled him every time, convinced him we were one of his hardest-working crews. Man, we loved Sam.”

That workman’s employer, Sam’s owner, the man with the legendary temper, was also my father-in-law. He owned a successful electrical contracting business, served in World War II and worked like a dog all his life. Everyone called him Dom except his mother-in-law, Angelina, who called him Don as a passive-aggressive insult. (You had to love Angelina). And were it not for Dom and his daughter, who single-handedly dragged me to Jersey, the crazy story that is Big Numbers would not have turned into a series.

Let’s face facts, stockbrokers are boring by themselves. Austin Carr needed trouble with the mob. And luckily for me, my father-in-law provided introductions. Not personally (Well, there was that time Dom and I met the handsome “Big Frank” Condi in a restaurant), but mostly through stories about Dom in the newspaper. Trust me, Dom was not the kind of man you slap on the shoulder and say, “So Dom, tell me about this limo ride. Were you scared?”

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Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat Graphic Novel Kickstarter Campaign

April 11, 2014 by  •
Andrez BergenIt’s no secret that I love the hell out of anything and everything Andrez Bergen is involved with. In fact, his novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (TSMG) is one of my all-time favorite reads.

With one foot planted firmly in a futuristic world where Seekers—people employed by the government to hunt down so-called Deviants for what is euphemistically called “hospitalization”—routinely undergo Matrix-like virtual reality “tests” to ensure they are still in the fold and capable of carrying out company orders, TSMG manages to simultaneously have its other foot rooted in an authentic, throwback, hardboiled detective vibe. And it is in that fuzzy blending of post-apocalyptic and old-school noir that TSMG carves out what is one of the most wonderfully unique books I’ve had the pleasure to read.

Needless to say, when Andrez told me he was doing a Kickstarter campaign to fund a graphic novel version of the story in collaboration with Fée Romney I was overjoyed. If you’ve had the pleasure of reading Andrez’s work (One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?), I hope you’ll get behind this campaign. As you know with these things, every little bit helps.

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Writing Comics: A Newbie’s Perspective by Christopher Irvin

March 28, 2014 by  •
I originally met Chris Irvin when I steered some graphic novels I had on my hands but wasn’t interested in his way. So in that regard, I guess I’ve always known he was into comics. Most of my interaction with him, however, has revolved around his crime fiction, both his short stories and his recently released novella, Federales. But when it came time for Chris to do a guest post in support of Federales, we thought it’d be interesting if he explored a slightly different side of writing, one many authors never think about: how to write for comics. So without further ado, here’s Chris on comics. (But do go buy a copy of Federales!)

I’ve been a fan of comics since I was young, collecting shiny Fleer trading cards and staring wide-eyed at the explosion of comics in the early-90’s (yes, that young.) I drew a lot as well, though that petered off as I got older and began to see true talent in those around me.

Skip forward a couple of decades and I’m knee deep in prose, working on short stories and a novella. But I’ve still got that itch to work on a comic. I sign up for a class on graphic novels at Grubstreet in Boston, taught by Katherine Roy and Tim Stout, who inspire me to work on mini-comics (four, six, eight page stories) and I’m off to the races.

Taking a cue from Dark Horse Presents, who run eight page stories/chapters, I write an eight page comic entitled, EXPATRIATE, about an American criminal who flees to Rio de Janeiro in the shadow of the coming 2016 Summer Olympics. The pages sit for a while, Boston Comic Con is postponed from April to August due to the marathon bombing, and I stumble into Ricardo Lopez Ortiz, a fantastic artist out of Brooklyn. I’ve sworn off purchasing a commission prior to going in, but I dig his art so much I pull the trigger anyway and he sketches a killer head shot of Judge Dredd for me.

Fast forward again a few months and I’ve been able to somehow rope Ricardo into this crazy project, which has now bloomed into a five issue mini-series. Fingers crossed, with a little blood and sweat and a lot of luck, this might turn into something.

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Federales by Christopher Irvin

March 3, 2014 by  •
The Internet is a strange and wonderful place. I originally met Chris Irvin when I found myself with some graphic novels on my hands I wasn’t interested in and asked around on Twitter to see who may want them. Chris took me up on the offer, and from there we did the Facebook friend thing and started getting to know each other better.

Despite working as an editor himself at Shotgun Honey, Chris is a smart enough guy to know it’s always wise to have someone else look at your own work, so he reached out to me to look at a few short stories he’d written. One thing lead to another, and at this point I’m proud to call Chris a regular editing client and someone I’ve worked with on numerous projects.

So, I was particularly happy when I learned one of those projects, a novella entitled Federales, had been picked up as the debut publication for the One Eye Press singles series. Federales officially drops tomorrow (ISBN: 978-0615916545), but here’s what people who’ve had a sneak peek have been saying about it:

“Christopher Irvin’s FEDERALES is an absolute gut-punch of a novella. The story of one man’s search for redemption and justice within a Mexican system that has long-forgotten the meaning of either will haunt you long after the last page is turned.” — Todd Robinson, author of The Hard Bounce

“FEDERALES is a sweaty, feverish sojourn into a fetid limb of the Mexican drug war, where sentiment, principles and fellow feeling have no place. Christopher Irvin’s read will carry you swiftly through to the fitting end.” — Sam Hawken, CWA Dagger Awards-nominated author of The Dead Women of Juárez

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Where Would We Be Without Imagination? by Stephen Paul

February 28, 2014 by  •
I’m pleased to welcome Stephen Paul to the blog today. I had the pleasure of working with Stephen on his debut novel, The Perfect Game, a fast-paced supernatural thriller involving a little baseball, a little science, a little sleuthing, and a lot of fun. And while I enjoy working on every manuscript I get the opportunity to help an author bring to life, it’s a special treat when one involves matters which are actually new and enlightening for me in the process—and I definitely wasn’t up on things like Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance prior to working with Stephen on The Perfect Game! But, as Stephen discusses in his guest post, that’s part of the power of imagination in action.

Lately, evolution has been on my mind. The whole notion that every single one of our attributes stems from a necessary purpose fascinates me. But what about imagination—the cornerstone of the inventor, the necessary tool for the artist, and the life-blood of a writer? What survival element did imagination possess that allowed it to flourish into what it is today?

A quick Google search provides a host of answers. I’ll go with the one from Richard Dawkins because it seems pretty easy to grasp. Dawkins, the atheist-extraordinaire, opines that imagination started out as simulation processes helping our ancestors avoid physical trial and error and then exploded in leaps and bounds.

Although I get where he’s coming from, as imagining the pain one might experience from falling off a cliff would definitely do the trick in teaching our ancestors not to fall off cliffs, it’s the explosion by leaps and bounds part that puzzles me. What evolutionary purpose allowed creative imagination to flourish in a way that resulted in Salvador Dali’s paintings or Stephen King’s books? How did we go from using imagination to avoid falling off cliffs to creating paintings about melting clocks and stories about killer cars and dogs?