The Joy of the Heist by J.D. Rhoades

I’m pleased to welcome J.D. “Dusty” Rhoades to the site today. After a successful run of novels featuring hard as nails Gulf War veteran turned bail enforcer Jack Keller—series debut The Devil’s Right Hand was nominated for the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel—as well as the standalone Breaking Cover (an intense thriller featuring a deep cover FBI agent), Dusty has decided to lighten up a little in his newest novel, Ice Chest (Polis Books), a comedic heist caper. In today’s guest post, Dusty explains what motivated him to switch things up a bit, and what challenges doing so presented.

 JD RhoadesThe Joy of the Heist

“So, Dusty,” you say, “here you are, a writer with a small but devoted following, known for writing what’s come to be called ‘redneck noir’—dark crime fiction set in the American South. Why on earth would you turn to writing something as different as your latest book, ICE CHEST–a comic heist novel?”

To this I would answer, “Excuse me, but who are you and what are you doing in my house?”

But seriously, folks, why would I undergo the perils of changing from gritty thrillers to zany caper novels? Because make no mistake, there is a certain amount of peril to switching up like that. Fans want something just like the thing that made them fall in love with your work in the first place. Publishers want something just like the thing that was successful last time, only different. It’s a little like a restaurant owner going to a table of regulars and saying, “I know you you’ve always enjoyed the steak here, but I’m going to bring you the tilapia. Trust me, you’ll love it.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.

But it’s a little scary to make that change, especially when you’re doing something as subjective as humor. There are few things more awkward than telling a joke or making an observation you find hilarious, only to have your listener stare at you blankly and say, “I don’t get it.” Imagine doing an entire book you hope is humorous and having it fall flat. So why do it?

Food and Fiction by Rob Hart

It’s my pleasure to welcome Rob Hart to the site today. Hart’s first novel, New Yorked, debuted last year and introduced readers to the world of Ashley (Ash) McKenna, a Staten Island born and bred New Yorker who finds himself drawn into the hunt for the killer of his longtime friend and unrequited love. City of Rose, the sequel to New Yorked, drops today, and Rob has been kind enough to stop by to talk about how food unwittingly became an underlying theme in his writing.

Rob HartFood and Fiction

Someone else had to point it out—I didn’t even notice that my short stories were taking on a food theme. But there they were: a bagel-maker defending his turf, warring food trucks, gourmands duped into thinking they were dining on human charcuterie.

When a friend reached out and asked how long until I released a collection of food noir, I was putting a polish on a story about a bakery bouncer and working on my second book, which is set in a vegan strip club in Portland.

City of Rose lands this week, and while I was putting the book together, I didn’t really intend to dive into the Portland food scene. But I couldn’t help myself. Here’s the thing about Portland: Any place that serves alcohol has to serve food, by law. And in Portland, they take their food pretty seriously. I’ve been out there a few times, and I’ve always eaten well.

There are some fun storytelling possibilities there. Setting the book in a vegan strip club felt turned out to be a natural extension of the story. The chef is trying to crack the code on vegan cheesy nachos and vegan cupcakes. They never come out right, because they’re tough to replicate without staples like butter, eggs, and milk.

Kind of like the protagonist, Ash McKenna, who is trying very hard to be something he’s not. And he pays for it in the end.

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Bad Citizen Corporation by S.W. Lauden

“I’ve lived through every second of my life and I still don’t know how I got to exactly this moment.” — Greg Salem

Greg Salem can be forgiven for being a bit confused about the state of his life. After all, he’s traveled a bit of an unusual path. Currently an East Los Angeles police officer, once upon a time Greg was known as Fred Despair, punk legend/lead singer of the band Bad Citizen Corporation (BCC).

Though he’s pretty much kicked the excesses of his former punk lifestyle, Salem’s still a bit of a square peg in the round hole that is the police department. When he’s not on the job, Salem still appears occasionally with BCC for special one-off gigs, and also enjoys indulging his passion for surfing.

It’s an interesting balancing act, one that starts to unravel after Salem is involved in an on-the-job shooting.

Art + Money = Crime by Susan Shea

Very happy to welcome to the site Susan Shea, whose latest book, Mixed Up With Murder, drops February 2nd. Mixed Up With Murder is third entry in the Dani O’Rourke mystery series, following Murder in the Abstract and The King’s Jar. Despite being the chief fundraiser at San Francisco’s prestigious Devor Museum of Art and Antiquities, a position one wouldn’t think could lend itself to too much “action,” as Susan explains in today’s post, the high-stakes, high-money world of art does indeed provide more than sufficient opportunity for Dani to get mixed up with crime…including murder.

Art + Money = Crime

If your preferred crime fiction is measured by the number of shots fired, people killed, cars demolished, and drug busts gone wrong, my books are going to be a harder sell. The Dani O’Rourke series, the third book of which comes out February 2, is not cozy by any means, but it’s not hard-boiled.

However, if measured by the amount of money at stake in the crimes I write about, move over Dirty Harry! I write about the contemporary art market, especially that part of it that trades in paintings and other work with auction values in the multi-millions. Think this isn’t worth some desperate criminal risks? Consider these sales, made in the past 10 years:

Picasso’s “Women of Algiers” $179 million
Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucien Freud” $140 million
Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash” $105 million
Cézanne’s “The Card Players” $250 million

These are only a few examples of A List works selling for close to or over $100 million recently. They’re not exceptions to the trend. In the past two decades, with a slight pause in 2008, even works by lesser and “unproven” (that means to the market, not to aesthetics) artists have been fetching extraordinary amounts of money, been traded like baseball cards as their prices ratcheted up to swooning heights with not much in the way of market fundamentals behind them. Not that anyone is quite sure how the market can properly value anything as subjective and prone to damage and fashion and rumor as paint on canvas.

So, as a crime writer, I follow the money, a tactic that gets Dani O’Rourke, a fundraiser for my fictional museum, into real trouble again and again. Who’s buying these art works? Why? Where are they going after they’ve been claimed? And what about art that simply vanishes off the walls? And the art that turns out to be fake? So much running room for a crime writer.

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The Sophomore Slog by S.W. Lauden

Very pleased to welcome S.W. Lauren to the blog today. His debut novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, dropped last November and was extremely well-received by both readers and reviewers alike. Today he’s here to talk about what it’s like for an author to tackle the second book in a series, especially the realization that the character you spent so many days, weeks and months creating is no longer exclusively yours anymore.

The Night Charter by Sam Hawken

“I’ve done some things in my life that put me in front of some bad people. I always tried to do right, though. That’s all you can do.” — Camaro Espinoza

For ex-combat medic Camaro Espinoza, doing the right thing is more than a lofty concept—it’s the way she lives every day of her life, and the standard by which she evaluates every decision she makes.

To be clear, in Camaro’s mind doing the right thing and doing what’s legal are not necessarily the same, and as such Camaro has accordingly had her fair share of trouble over the years.

A particularly bad bit of it in New York City roughly a year ago ended with five men dead and Camaro relocating to a low-profile gig in Miami. Acting as captain and sole crew member of a fifty-foot Custom Carolina charter boat, Camaro takes groups out for catch-and-release deep-sea fishing excursions.

Things seem to be going fine for Camaro, until ex-con Parker Story shows up. Parker wants to book Camaro for a night charter for himself and a few friends. Only thing is, they aren’t looking to fish. They want Camaro to run them out to just off the Cuban coast to pick up a special passenger. Initially reluctant, Camaro finds it difficult to turn Parker away once she finds out he is a single father to a teenage daughter, and that his associates have made it clear things won’t go well for Parker, or his daughter, if he doesn’t make the charter happen.

It’s So Miami by Sam Hawken

It’s always a pleasure to welcome Sam Hawken back to the blog. Over the years I’ve been honored to both read and review Sam’s novels, as well as to work with him on his Camaro Espinoza novellas. That’s why it’s a particular pleasure to welcome Sam today, as his newest novel, The Night Charter, which will be released tomorrow by Mulholland Books (ISBN-13: 978-0316299213), features Camaro making her full-length novel debut. Today Sam is here to talk about how a thirty-year-old TV show helped shape who and what the Camaro series is all about.

It’s So Miami

I watch a lot of Miami Vice. I’ve been watching it for thirty years, and I’ll probably watch it for thirty more, or for however long I have left. I’ve even been reviewing every episode, week by week, for over a year and am finally coming to the end of all five seasons. Everything about this show is embedded in my brain, from the storytelling to the politics, and has followed me through my writing career up until this day. So it makes sense that I would end up here, with the publication of The Night Charter, in the city of Miami.

This is the story of Camaro Espinoza, Iraq and Afghanistan veteran with the damaged history of someone who spent a thousand days in war zones, and an entire life dealing with the fractured pieces of her past. She’s a fighter, and though she no longer wears a uniform she has discovered the warrior’s path is one that has no end.

As The Night Charter begins, she works as the captain of a charter fishing boat, trying to forget that one year before she helped kill five bad men in New York City, and trying to reconcile the memory of all the people she’s killed over the course of her life. But circumstances change to the point that she had no choice to pick up a gun again. And maybe some part of her wanted to do it all along.

The Incurables by Jon Bassoff

Faith and delusion aren’t that far apart, when you really think about it.

The setup of The Incurables, the latest offering from Jon Bassoff, is both incredibly straightforward and wonderfully disturbing.

In the early 1950s, after decades of treating patients and pioneering the transorbital lobotomy, aka the “icepick lobotomy,” Dr. Walter Freeman is put out to pasture by the board of directors of the facility where he works.

Seems they’ve finally realized Freeman’s method of “curing” patients suffering from mental illness—inserting an icepick into the corner of each eye socket, hammering it through the orbital bone with a small hammer, then moving it around in order to sever the connections of the prefrontal cortex— isn’t the most humane.

Crushed that his work is being cast aside for newfangled measures and meds, Freeman decides to take his show on the road, and absconds with his last patient in the process. Going from town to town, Freeman “preaches” the power of the transorbital lobotomy to cure what ails you, or a loved one. He uses his patient, Edgar, as living proof of the miraculous power of the pick.

Short-Changing the Noir by Andrez Bergen

As always, it’s an immense pleasure to welcome Andrez Bergen back to the blog. There’s not much I can say about Andrez that I haven’t already, many times. Bottom line: he’s one of my all-time favorite authors, and someone who I believe consistently produces some of the most creative, complex, and challenging fiction around—the man has crazy skills.

Andrez BergenShort-Changing the Noir

The writing of my fifth novel, Small Change: A Casebook of Scherer and Miller, Investigators of the Paranormal and Supermundane (out December 11 through Roundfire Fiction), has meant a rediscovery of roots plundered in the very first novel I did, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.

And not just regarding long-winded titles.

No, I’m talking up the hardboiled stuff.

Not that I forgot – or set aside – my love for all things Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but with subsequent books I found myself determined to also push the envelope and explore other terrains.

The genre I prefer to call ‘noir’ – since it can then relate to film as well – lends itself nicely to being coaxed into a corner with a fistful of ulterior styles. I mixed it with dystopia and sci-fi in TSMG, decanted the brew into more surreal bents – verging on, dare I say, magical realism – with One Hundred Years of Vicissitude and Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth, while Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? matched noir up in a ring with pulp and the silver age of comics.

But I always did have a hankering for softer horror and a relatively offbeat sense of humour as well as budding detectives, and got to combine all three with Small Change.

Reading as a Writer by Mark Richardson

Today I welcome Mark Richardson to the blog in conjunction with his recently released novel Hunt for the Troll. The book hasn’t quite made it to the top of my TBR yet, but I’ve heard great buzz about it and wanted to go ahead and give Mark a chance to introduce himself. I love what he chose to write about—how his love of books as a reader has affected him as an author—because I’m a firm believer that it is damn near impossible to be a great writer unless you’re also a great consumer of books as a reader.

Reading as a Writer

The first book I have a conscious memory of is Make Way For Ducklings. I can distinctly remember as a Pre-K being pressed against my mother’s side as she read it to me. We sat on a yellow sofa in our family’s living room, the sun streaming in a window. Or maybe that sofa was robin’s egg blue? That tidbit is a bit unclear, but no matter. Thus began a lifelong love of books.

Reading brings me joy. When it comes to books, I’m down for just about anything—biographies, detective novels, literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy—you name it. Practically every day of my life, one book or another has occupied a spot on my nightstand.

Like a lot of book lovers, I always had a vague notion that one day I would write something myself. And by something, I mean fiction. But I never got around to it, at least not until I hit middle age. That’s when I was working in the corporate communications department at a tech company in Silicon Valley. Each week I would go to lunch with two of my co-workers. Like me, they both wrote for work—webpage articles, speeches, press releases, video scripts—that sort of thing. But unlike me, they were also writing fiction on the side (novels and short stories). One day, one of them asked me, “Dude, when are you going to write something?”

The gauntlet had been dropped.

“Glitter Faggots from Space” (or Why I Wrote Young Americans) by Josh Stallings

My love of everything Josh Stallings writes is no secret, as I have given glowing reviews to everything of his I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I’ve also had the honor of working with Josh as his editor, first on the Moses McGuire book One More Body, and most recently on his newest release, Young Americans, which drops today. Given my involvement with the book it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to review it, but I’m more than happy to turn the floor over to Josh himself to talk a little about how a man known for bone-crunching, pitch-black noir came to write a heist story set in the thick of the 1970s glitter/glam/disco era.

Glitter Faggots from Space (or Why I Wrote Young Americans)

“Who was the original Bond?” my son Dylan asked me Saturday driving home from our weekly date.

“Sean Connery.” I was confident I had this one.

“Wrong, Dad. Pierce Brosnan.” I started to argue, but realized he was correct. Dylan was using original to mean best, truest. The best Bond is who played him when you became old enough to discover cool. Cool is personal and generational. Same is true for music.

In the mid 1970s I discovered musical cool, Glitter Rock (or Glam – the predominant label outside of a few of us NorCal kids.) The four years between the ages of 13 to 17 were wild flashing stoned drunk dancing fucking fighting four-wheel-drifting in a Bonneville heartbreaking transforming years. We, to paraphrase Bowie, balled and played and moved like tigers on Vaseline. A magical time of sexual exploration and fluid gender boundaries. Punk’s anger was tame compared to Glitter’s mantra of we fuck anyone. It never occurred to me that Freddie Mercury was gay, because it didn’t matter. We experimented with everything—drugs, sure, but also 8mm filmmaking, storytelling, writing, theater, music. We were young, hung and way too bright for our own good. These were the beguiling years before AIDs, heroin overdoses and that killer of so many of our best minds: household bills and the jobs we took to knock them out.

The Unmeaning of Life by Jon Bassoff

Jon Bassoff is well-known in the crime fiction/noir community, both as the founder of publisher New Pulp Press, as well as being the author of disturbing, thought-provoking, critically acclaimed noir. I’m pleased to welcome Jon to the blog today in conjunction with his latest release, The Incurables.

The Unmeaning of Life

There’s a telling moment in Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade learns of his partner’s death and proceeds to very calmly roll a cigarette. It is clear that there is no love lost between the two—hell, Spade was sleeping with his partner’s wife—and yet Spade feels compelled to avenge his death. As Spade says, “When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.” There’s no compelling reason for Spade to redress his partner’s death other than his own seemingly arbitrary moral code.

Or take Flannery O’Connor’s southern gothic novel Wise Blood. Hazel Motes, angered by the hypocrisies and failings of Christianity, begins preaching a new nihilistic gospel, calling it The Church Without Christ. But no matter how hard he tries to separate himself from Christianity and those who preach it, he is unable to fully escape (even the suit he purchases causes people to mistake him for a Christian preacher). He finds himself falling further and further into despair, and by the time the novel ends, perhaps in a desperate attempt at redemption, he has blinded himself with lime, placed broken glass in his shoes, and wrapped barbed wire around his chest. Hazel essentially martyrs himself for his intense faith in nothing.

The Station Sergeant/Barlow by the Book by John McAllister

Potential Spoiler Warning: As this review is a double dip of both Barlow books, the second part of the review necessarily mentions a certain event that occurs in the first book. I’ve tried to be as vague as possible, but a little “spoiling” is impossible to avoid in order to properly discuss the second book.

When readers first meet Station Sergeant John Barlow in The Station Sergeant, he’s peddling his bike through the countryside of Northern Ireland in a raging downpour on the way to visit one of the farms in his Ballymena constituency. It’s a wonderful image, and one that sets the tone for what’s to come.

Barlow is a man not easily deterred, by nature or his fellow man. As a wily veteran of both the military (World War II) and the local constabulary, his hardheaded nature is a quality that serves him well and sets his direct supervisors—who are not quite comfortable with Barlow’s rough edges and rule-skirting approach to policing—on edge.

As The Station Sergeant opens, Barlow rides into a storm both literally and figuratively.

Mixed in amongst the crashing thunder, Barlow hears the distinctive sound of gunfire. Pushing on to the farm the shots appear to be coming from, Barlow happens upon the body of farmer Stoop Taylor. Given that Stoop was not the most popular man, the list of suspects is initially somewhat daunting.

The case would be challenging enough in itself, but adding to the uphill battle is the fact Barlow’s recently been saddled with a new District Inspector, one who appears ready to stop at nothing to see Barlow busted down in rank and transferred, if not outright booted from the force. Add into the mix the Dunlops, a local family of ne’er-do-wells and aspiring criminals, and Barlow has his work cut out for him. And that’s just on the professional front.

Nine Toes in the Grave by Eric Beetner

You ever feel like the biggest fucking idiot in the world? Well, you’re not. I am. — Reese

Despite being trapped in a dead-end job at a greasy-spoon diner in the middle of nowhere (Miles away from anything interesting and too far to make a run for it. Boredom was our chief export and business was good.), Reese has been content to just grind out a life and keep his nose clean.

Well, mostly clean.

He’s recently started sleeping with fellow diner employee, Moira, who also happens to be the wife of the joint’s owner. Not the most upstanding behavior, but still nothing to call the cops over. That call is coming, however, because Reese happens to have the worst luck, and the worst decision-making skills, in history.

Moira, you see, has a scheme in the works, one she wants Reese to help her pull the trigger on. When Reese refuses to assist, Moira takes matters into her own hands in a way that points the finger at Reese. Instead of sticking around to try and clear his name, Reese does the first thing that comes to mind: run.

Of course, having no money to speak of and being in the aforementioned middle of nowhere, he doesn’t get far—barely an hour down the road, in fact. As he rolls into a strange town and heads to a dive bar to take stock of his miserable situation, Reese is about to experience firsthand the concept that no matter how bad you think things are, they can always get worse.

Ten Things I Learned Writing My First Novel by Trace Conger

It’s a pleasure to welcome Shamus Award-winning author Trace Conger to the blog. You’d think after winning a Shamus for your debut novel things would be easy street, but as Trace is here to talk about today, writing is a tough business no matter which way you slice it.

Ten Things I Learned Writing My First Novel

I published my first novel, The Shadow Broker, in October of 2014. It was a fascinating experience, and after releasing my second novel, Scar Tissue, last month I took some time to reflect on the process.

Your mileage may vary, but here’s what I learned along the way.

1. Writing a novel is only as intimidating as you make it. Starting a novel is like holding your newborn for the first time. You’re ready to crap yourself thinking about your newfound responsibilities of raising a living, breathing human being. Taking on a novel can feel the same way, but it’s only as bad as you make it out to be. Take it one word or one page at a time and one day you’ll wake up with an 80,000-word novel.

2. Outlines make the process easier. Other writers will debate this, but for me creating an outline kept me on track. I create a brief outline for each chapter, including no more detail than can fit on one side of an index card. After I have the story fleshed out, I sit down with my stack of cards and write each scene or chapter. Yes, the story changes. Yes, you’ll throw away some of your ideas or characters, but having a road map will help you get to your destination, even if you take a few detours along the way.

3. It takes a long time. If you want to unleash quality work into the world, put on your patient pants. If you work with a traditional publisher, it can take a year or more to bring your novel to market. But even if you self publish, it takes time to write, edit, solicit beta reader feedback, rewrite, edit again, create a cover, layout the novel, and more.