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.

I Have A New Book Out. I’m Sorry. by Eric Beetner

It’s a pleasure to welcome Eric Beetner back to the blog. You can check out all of Eric’s previous guest posts, as well as my reviews of his work, in the Eric Beetner archive. Eric’s most recent book, Nine Toes In The Grave (All Due Respect Books), was published two days ago. Today, Eric’s here to talk about the double-edged sword that results when an author publishes five books in one year.

I Have A New Book Out. I’m Sorry.

I’ve just released my fifth book this year, Nine Toes In The Grave. Much of this unusually prolific year is cheating since Nine Toes is a novella so it’s fairly short. Two of the novels, The Backlist and Over Their Heads were cowritten so I only had to write half a book. My novel Rumrunners was written four years ago and rescued from the slush pile. And The Year I Died Seven Times was serialized last year but compiled into an omnibus this year.

But I did still write them all and I should feel proud, but mostly what I’ve felt is apologetic. I don’t want to plaster people every two months with a new round of, “Buy my book!” interactions. I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to dominate the conversation or take attention away from anyone else who is rightly proud of their book.

Well, screw that. I need to learn to embrace being a prolific author. I enjoy writing, so I do a lot of it. The idea that someone would publish my work is a privilege many authors are still seeking. I work hard at it. I support other authors as best I can. I host reading events for people to get their work out there. I tell people about books I love and try to spread the word. I need to just get over it. Right?

Lurking underneath is the fear that being prolific has the appearance of tossing out any old thing whether it’s fully baked or not. This accusation has been leveled at every prolific author from Stephen King on down. Although I will mention that one of our least prolific authors, Harper Lee, has many in agreement she should have stuck to only the one book so it cuts both ways.

Big Shoes by Jack Getze

How the hell did I get myself into this mess—dead-ass center of a war between two crime families? — Austin Carr

Wondering how he ended up in yet another mess isn’t really a new question for Jersey Shore broker Austin Carr, who seems to have a unique talent for finding himself up to his eyes in one sticky wicket after another (Big Numbers, Big Money, Big Mojo). Unfortunately for Carr, he’s really gone and done it this time.

In a classic case of too little too late, Carr has finally decided to break ties with his partner at Shore Securities and make a fresh start. The hitch in that giddyap? His partner Vic Bonacelli is the son of infamous mobster Angelina “Mama Bones” Bonacelli, and no one just walks away from Mama Bones.

Complicating matters further, Carr’s best friend and confidant, Luis Guerrero, is arrested by crooked cops at the behest of mobster Johnny “The Turk” Korsay. Why? To put pressure on Carr, who witnessed The Turk commit a murder, or so The Turk is convinced.

And because Carr can never get out of his own way, he manages, in the midst of everything else, to turn his obsession with redheads into the ultimate Achilles’ heel when he hits on the wrong firebrand one too many times.

Now, Carr is caught between Mama Bones, who wants him alive to help run a part of her empire, and The Turk, who wants Carr dead because he’s the last piece standing between The Turk and expanding his empire into Mama Bones’ territory. Oh, and did I mention the illegal, underage sex ring and massive horse racing fix? Yeah… Carr is definitely in it up to his eyes. Again.

Casting the Book by Jack Getze

Pleased to welcome man of many hats Jack Getze back to the blog today. In addition to working as fiction editor for Spinetingler Magazine — following a career as a reporter — Jack is also an author himself. Today he’s here to talk about who he’d cast as the two leads in a film of his Austin Carr series, which recently saw the release of its fourth entry, Big Shoes.

Casting the Book

The first time someone asked me, “Who would you like to see play Austin Carr in a movie?” the actor I immediately thought of was Vince Vaughn. Tall, good looking, smart enough in appearance to dish out top-notch, cackle and chuckle-producing wisecracks. That’s the guy—Austin Carr to a T.

And then years later I saw this picture of Johnny Depp.

My world ripped to pieces. Vince Vaughn was already embedded in my psyche, a mainstay visual as I wrote the next Austin Carr adventure. How could I change? I had a few drinks that night and put my e-purchased glossy photo of Vince Vaughn onto the wall with a thumbtack. (My wife was not pleased.) Beside him, I attached a poorly reproduced version of the above, movie-promo shot of Johnny Depp. I stared for long minutes, first Vince. Then Johnny. My thoughts crystalized: Johnny was Austin Carr — cute, smart and goofy. Look at that hair! Vince was not goofy enough.

Billy’s Monsters by Vincent Holland-Keen

Billy's Monsters by Vincent Holland-KeenI wish to be more than just a voice whispering from the dark beneath your bed.

For most people, the idea that something is lurking beneath the bed waiting for just the right moment to leap out and grab them is a routine part of childhood, but one that goes away as we grow into adolescence and come to understand there’s no such thing as monsters.

Except…what if there is?

Sixteen-year-old Billy knows all too well that the things that go bump in the night are, unfortunately, real. And that they aren’t confined to either the night or under the bed. You see, not only can Billy see monsters, he’s actually been to the other side, to their realm.

There, he received training that allows him to move through our world fully aware of the monsters among us, and which gave him the skills to do what he can to fight those monsters that seek to do more than coexist on our plane.

Yet even Billy had no idea just how ambitious some of the more aggressive members of the realm of monsters were, or what they had planned.

Until his chance meeting with a girl named Scarlett.

The Outsider by Arlene Hunt

The Outsider by Arlene Hunt“I think I am normal. I am normal for me.” —Emma Byrne

Though Emma Byrne’s self-assessment that she is “normal for me” is accurate, her belief that she is simply “normal” couldn’t be more mistaken. Truth is, there is nothing normal about Emma, and there never has been.

From the time she and her twin brother, Anthony, were born to Evelyn and Jack Bryne, it was abundantly clear there was something different about Emma. She did not react to stimuli in the ways other babies did, nor did she grow out of her odd bahaviors as she aged.

Quite the opposite, she became even more entrenched in her highly particular mannerisms and routines, not caring at all about what conventional expectations, or her parents, demanded of her.

For those around her, Emma’s self-chosen isolation and taciturn nature make her difficult to deal with, and her occasional violent outbursts have earned her invitations to leave more than one school.

Emma’s unusual behavior has been hard for her parents to fathom, the situation made even more difficult by the everybody knows your business life they lead in their tight-knit rural community in 1970s Ireland. As far as her twin, Anthony, is concerned, Emma is a colossal embarrassment, one whose bizarre bahavior makes him a social pariah and target of bullying by association. He, of course, resents her deeply because of this.

Fortunately for all, there is one area where Emma’s uniqueness works to her advantage: she has an uncanny ability to commune with animals, especially horses. So gifted is she in her equine dealings, that at age 15 she officially leaves school to “study” at home, though in reality she ends up working full time for a friend of the family who trains and keeps horses. It’s a situation that finally appears to be working for everyone, until the fateful night a tragic occurrence sets in motion a chain of events that will irrevocably change the lives of everyone in their small Irish village.

The Backlist by Frank Zafiro & Eric Beetner

RumrunnersOh, Christ. I was being laid off by the mafia. — Bricks

Paula “Bricks” Brickey is a mafia legacy. Her father, Antonio, served long and faithfully, even going so far as to do a stretch in prison rather than rat out the family. It’s why even as a woman she was able to get a foot in the door to do more than answer phones, though her skill and efficiency more than earned her a place as a button (wo)man once she got a chance to show her stuff.

Cameron Lowe is also a mafia legacy, though with not nearly the skill, polish or prestige as Bricks—hell, he doesn’t even have a cool nickname. Cameron grew up hanging around his uncle Rocco’s crew, happy to run whatever errands they sent him on. And though he’s now a grown man, he never really grew beyond his role as a glorified errand boy. Until now.

Seems not even the mafia is immune to a severe downturn in the economy, and when several high-ranking capos decide to head south with part of the family business things get critical financially for the boss Bricks and Cameron work for—downsizing is in order.

As there will only be room for one button man on the payroll in the family’s future, the boss decides to have a competition: both Bricks and Cameron will be given a list of “overdue accounts” to settle, and whoever turns in the most impressive performance will get the job. For Bricks it means proving she deserves to stay. For Cameron it’s a chance to prove he’s ready to step up.

Banned Books Week 2015: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to ReadToday is the start of Banned Books Week 2015:

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, BBW highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom — the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular — provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during BBW have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged — and possibly banned or restricted — if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use BBW each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.”

For more information on getting involved with Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, visit their official website.

Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Vol. 3 by Paul O’Brien

Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Vol. 3“We all know the rules. Most of us live by those rules. If you don’t, then we will kill you on the vine.” — Joe Lapine

Author Paul O’Brien showed up on my radar back in 2012 with the novel Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, an engaging trip through the back rooms and shady deals that formed the backbone of the professional wrestling circuit during its heyday of the late 1960s/early 1970s.

O’Brien built the story of battling territory owners Proctor King and Danno Garland to a crescendo that was left tantalizingly hanging, before picking things up in early 2013 with Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2, which focuses on Garland, who has finally clawed his way to the top and now controls the World Heavyweight Champion.

It wasn’t an easy climb, however, and the backstabbing and double-crosses finally catch up with Garland, who gets caught in a deadly downward spiral of retaliation and revenge. Relative bit players in the first book, ring-rat/limo driver Lenny Long and Garland’s right-hand man, Ricky Plick, move out of the shadows in the second outing, with both playing crucial roles as Garland’s life and empire crumble around him.

All of which sets the stage for the sledgehammer final book in the trilogy, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 3, which finds the formerly gritty world of ‘60s/’70s wrestling giving way to the neon spandex, face paint, and baby oiled bodies of the flashy 1980s. Twelve years have passed since the climactic events that ended the previous entry, twelve years that saw Lenny Long doing the ultimate slow burn in prison, waiting for his chance to settle scores and make his own power play.

Abnormal Author seeks Abnormal Readers by Grant Jerkins

I’m pleased to welcome one of my all-time favorite authors, Grant Jerkins, back to the site, though I wish the circumstances were slightly different. There’s no question Grant is a phenomenally talented author—his first three novels were universally praised, each made my Year’s Best list the year it was released, and his debut novel, A Very Simple Crime, has been adapted for screen by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nicholas Kazan and O’Neill Fellowship playwright Terry Curtis Fox. But a funny thing happened on the way to the publication of his most recent book, Abnormal Man. He can tell the story far better than I ever could, so I’ll turn things over to Grant.

Abnormal Author seeks Abnormal Readers
All Serious Enquiries Considered
No Brain Too Damaged, No Heart Too Dark

I want to thank Elizabeth for having me on her site and giving me a voice. When I published my first novel in 2010, Elizabeth was quite kind and supportive and has been that way ever since. I think that’s true for a lot of writers.

Most likely, this is the only promotion I’ll be doing for Abnormal Man, my fifth novel. I won’t be going on a blog tour, or chatting on internet radio, or posting a starred Publishers Weekly review on my Facebook page. PW won’t be reviewing Abnormal Man. Neither will Booklist or Library Journal or The New York Times for that matter. Because Abnormal Man is self published. I won’t even be doing a signing at my local bookstore, because the owner has made it clear to me that she has no intention of stocking the book. Why? Because she doesn’t approve of the printer I’m using. They’re owned by Amazon. And she would rather turn her back on me than see Amazon make a nickel. (Let’s all take a moment to feel sad for independent bookstores and how hard they’ve got it.)

So, you might be wondering why I’ve chosen to self publish Abnormal Man. I have an answer for that, but it’s not a simple one. Let me bullet it for you:

The Killing Kind by Chris Holm

Chris Holm“I’ve been asked to send a message. Your death is merely to be the punctuation mark at the end of said message.” — Alexander Engleman

FBI Special Agent Charlotte Thompson has an obsession. Over a period of several years she’s been tracking a man she calls the ghost, a hit man she’s convinced is responsible for an unusual string of murders—her ghost only kills other hit men.

Neither her new partner nor her bosses at the Bureau are convinced.

But as it turns out, calling her quarry a ghost is incredibly apt since, unbeknownst to Thompson, the target of her obsession is dead. Well, on the books he is anyway.

Michael Hendricks was once a member of a covert ops unit sent to perform false-flag missions for the US government. When all but two members of his squad—Hendricks and one other—were killed in a roadside attack in Afghanistan, Hendricks saw it as an opportunity to disappear and start his life over.

Upon finding his way back to the States, Hendricks decided to put his special skill set to use in a way he hopes will help him clear his conscience and earn redemption—he becomes a killer of killers. With the help of his friend, tech wizard Lester Myers, the other survivor of that attack in Afghanistan, Hendricks identifies people who are targets of impending “hits” and offers to take out the hit man assigned the job—for a price: ten times the cost of the hit. People who accept Hendricks’s offer live to see another day. Those who decide to pass, well, their track record isn’t too great when they decide to roll the dice without Hendricks as backup.

Why I Write Crime by Chris Holm

It’s a pleasure to welcome Chris Holm back to the blog. You can check out all of Chris’s previous guest posts, as well as my reviews of his work, in the Chris Holm archive. Today, Chris is here in conjunction with his impending release, The Killing Kind (Mulholland, Sept. 15th), which introduces the character Michael Hendricks, a hitman with a twist: he only takes out other hitmen.

Chris HolmWhy I Write Crime

My grandfather on my mother’s side—Papa to his grandkids, because nobody, but nobody, called him Grandpa—was a great many things. A decent man. A fierce competitor. A stern disciplinarian. A consummate storyteller.

But most of all, Papa was a cop.

A damn good one, by all accounts. Papa rose through the ranks of the Syracuse PD from beat cop to Deputy Chief, busting his share of bad guys along the way. Somehow, despite everything he’d seen, he still never locked his doors at night. “If they want to get in, they’ll get in,” he’d say. “No point forcing them to break a window to do it.”

I remember riding with him in his Caddy (he always said that when he made it, he was gonna get a Cadillac—and even though his turned out to be a piece of junk, he loved it just the same) while he made his weekend rounds, my legs not yet long enough for my feet to reach the floor mats. To the newsstand, for a Batman comic (mine) and a Sunday paper (his). To his favorite bakery to pick up doughnuts (some stereotypes are true, I guess; the man was thin as a rail, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t love a good doughnut). To the Public Safety Building, where every cop in the place would say hello to me like I was some kind of VIP.