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The Great Road Trip, 2013 by Sara J Henry

April 5, 2013 by  •
Today I am very pleased to welcome Sara Henry back to the blog. Sara’s first book, Learning to Swim, quite deservedly won both the Anthony and Agatha Awards for best first novel, as well as the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Sara is currently promoting her new book, A Cold and Lonely Place, and as you’ll see she’s been quite the road warrior in doing so!

Sara HenryI’m on the road – driving through the night to Houston, my first stop – before I remember that (a) I’m highly uncomfortable driving in cities and (b) I find doing new things more slightly stressful.

But I’m off on a five-week, self-organized driving tour for my new novel. Apparently this is how I get myself to do things: selective partial amnesia.

Stop 1: Houston’s Murder by the Book, where I’m staying with Stephanie Evans1 (Faithful unto Death). I squeeze in a visit with a former neighbor, and after the event go to dinner with the brother of another writer friend. That all went well, I think, deciding the ominous tickle in my throat is allergies. That’s all, just allergies.

Then to Dallas, on an interstate that loops and swirls like a giant surreal video game. I try not to hold my breath. Here I meet up with Taylor Stevens1 (The Innocent), with whom I share a publisher, and thanks in no small part to her help have a lovely event at A Real Bookstore in Fairview, Texas.

That evening on Facebook, a friend asks when I might be visiting Oklahoma. I check the distance on Google Maps and make the fateful reply, How about tomorrow? I make it to Tulsa easily – but oops, a snowstorm is forecast across Texas. Just where I am heading.

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A Film Deal Odyssey by Dave Zeltserman

April 1, 2013 by  •
Dave ZeltsermanBy 2005 I was barely published. My first novel, Fast Lane, had been published by a tiny micro press in the US and a small publisher in Italy, and I had two stories in magazines. I also had three finished novels, two of which, SMALL CRIMES and OUTSOURCED, I was sure would get published but my agent was getting no interest for them. Eventually all three would get published—BAD THOUGHTS in 2007, SMALL CRIMES in 2008, where it would end up topping NPR’s list of best crime and mystery novels of the year, and OUTSOURCED in 2010, but at that moment things were looking bleak and I was ready to toss in the towel . What kept me going was a phone call from my agent telling me that one of the more influential film agents in Hollywood wanted to take on Outsourced.

Over the next 3 years we had a couple of close calls. At one point it looked like we were going to get a cable series deal, at another, we had a couple of very hot screenwriters who wanted to work on it, but in both cases nothing ended up materializing. Then at the end of 2008 we got the deal. Constantin Film would finance the movie and Impact Pictures would produce it. I quickly learned there are 3 parts of a film deal that a writer needs to care about. The option price, the floor and ceiling prices. All deals have the film rights (which are sold the day filming starts) based on a percentage of the budget, so the floor price (the minimum price) and the ceiling (maximum price) are what’s most important. You’ll also get a percentage of profit, but as my film agent explained to me, writers shouldn’t expect to get anything there. A case in point, Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump, sued Paramount because at the time that Gump was the 3rd highest gross in film history, Paramount claimed there was no profit.

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The Land of the Devil by James LePore

March 28, 2013 by  •
Today I am pleased to welcome James LePore back to the blog. Jim is an accomplished author, and has been kind enough to allow me to share an original short story based on one of his novels, Blood of My Brother. Jim’s latest novel, The Fifth Man, is available from The Story Plant (ISBN: 978-1611880656).

Gods and Fathers by James LePoreI have discovered, after writing five novels, that my characters take on lives of their own. They have pre-novel lives and post-novel lives. I get to know them in ways somehow more intimate than the real people in my life. My book of short stories, Anyone Can Die, was a joy to write, because it gave me a chance to reconnect with the central characters in my first novel, A World I Never Made. I just finished a sequel, called The Fifth Man, to Sons and Princes, my third novel, in which the Massi family lives and breathes again.

The story that appears here, “The Land of the Devil”, is one among three still unpublished stories that I wrote after the release of my second novel, Blood of My Brother. It is a prequel that stands alone as a brief glimpse into the soul of a tortured young woman. Isabel haunts me and will, my heart tells me, appear again in future work. — Jim LePore, March 7, 2013

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Clowns, Aimless Babble and Snot-Slinging Drunk by Mike McCrary

March 27, 2013 by  •
I’m quite pleased to welcome Mike McCrary back to the blog today. Mike is a screenwriter who has recently begun the foray into writing crime fiction, and his work has already appeared places like Out of the Gutter, The Big Adios, and Shotgun Honey. It’s been my pleasure to work with Mike on a couple of manuscripts, and while he’s waiting to hear back on one novel he has on submission, he’s decided to go ahead and turn his novella, Getting Ugly, loose into the wild.

Which is rather fitting, as Getting Ugly is a pretty wild ride. Mike would be the first to tell you there’s no über-complicated, Inceptionesque plot at work in Getting Ugly, just a lot of badass people going to work, all trying to get the man known as Big Ugly. Easier said than done, as you don’t get the moniker “Big Ugly” because you have a charming personality. So, give a read to Mike’s thoughts on that old chestnut of writing advice, write what you know, then consider if today might warrant a little Getting Ugly.

Mike McCrary“Write what you know.”

I remember hearing this horrific advice years ago. If you were raised by wolves, kicked a smack habit at age seven, roamed the globe as a circus clown, then graduated Yale before serving as a SEAL, then yes, absolutely, write what you know. If you’re like a lot of us, raised in a lower to upper middle class home, stumbled through life before ending up in a shitty job?

Do. Not. Write. What. You. Know.

What you know is what everybody else knows, and it’s not interesting. Nothing personal, I’m in the same boat, but it’s true. Have you ever been trapped somewhere and some dude felt the need to babble aimlessly about his lawn? You smile and nod, maybe sprinkle around a few words like “Really?” or “I didn’t know that” while inside your skull you’re pleading for the end of all things. That guy? He’s telling the story of what he knows.

Now if you take what you know and you inject a healthy dose of interesting then maybe you’ve got something. Perhaps an unhealthy dose. Hell, drown that bullshit you know in some flat-out fucking fascinating sauce and stand back. Something cool will come out of it. Or it won’t, but I promise it’s a more interesting story than what it was.

It’s not to say that everybody doesn’t have some great stories from high school, their 20’s, their friends, family, that time they got snot-slinging drunk in Chicago, that time with that girl and that thing with that pissed off boyfriend and the half-nude chase that ensued down Las Vegas Blvd…you get it.

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A Short Anatomy of My New Short Story Collection by Ed Lynskey

March 25, 2013 by  •
I’m pleased to welcome Lake Charles author Ed Lynskey back to the blog today to talk about his latest release, the short story collection Smoking on Mount Rushmore.

Ed LynskeyPutting together a short story collection is a little more complex than just binding together a bunch of short stories. I have done three story collections (the first two used the tales from my private detective series). I took some time deliberating over which of my yarns to include in my new Smoking on Mount Rushmore. In the end, I opted to go with a little variety (soft-boiled, medium-boiled) rather than concentrate on the narrow scope of hardboiled/noir short fiction I like to work in.

Moreover, I also wanted to use those stories previously selected and published by the different editors at the crime and other ezines. I had the privilege to collaborate with such first-rate editors as Al Guthrie, Sarah Weinman, Anthony Neil Smith, Todd Robinson, and others.

Next came the editing stage. I wondered if I was alone in my thinking about doing that. My online research indicated short story collections typically undergo a rigorous editing process. After all, you are presenting the best of your short fiction. I also discovered short story collections are expected to offer bonus stories previously unpublished for readers to enjoy something new. I did not know that.

So, I inserted a pair of them to round out mine and identified Smoking on Mount Rushmore as being a New and Selected Stories. The most colorful title of its 16 short stories also became the collection’s title. Why re-invent the wheel, as they like to say? I’ve often heard readers’ comments made on how their reading short stories ends too soon for their liking, so I included several longer stories, including the title yarn from Smoking on Mount Rushmore.

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Better Supercop than Superbabe: Meet Carla Windermere (Again) by Owen Laukkanen

March 21, 2013 by  •
Owen Laukkanen’s debut, The Professionals, announced itself with authority in 2012, garnering praise from the likes of Lee Child, John Sandford, and Jonathan Kellerman, and landing on more than a few “Best of” lists at the year’s end. Now Owen returns with Criminal Enterprise, in which he expands the role of characters who were secondary in his debut outing. He’s particularly glad he had the chance to do so when it comes to his female lead, Carla Windermere. You see, he didn’t exactly get her right the first time around. I’ll let him explain.

Owen LaukkanenOne of the really fun things about writing a series is having the opportunity to revisit one’s characters, to pry open their lives and explore their personalities a little more with each book. Or in some cases, to write them the way you should have done the first time around.

THE PROFESSIONALS, my first novel, was published a year ago this week. It’s the story of a group of twentysomethings who turn to kidnapping when their college degrees don’t land them any kind of a living. If you’re a regular reader of Elizabeth’s blog, you might remember the column I wrote to mark the book’s release, wherein I explained how circumstance and an utter lack of planning landed me a deal for a series about Minnesota state policeman Kirk Stevens and his FBI counterpart, Special Agent Carla Windermere.

Basically: I’m not one for outlining my novels. I sat down to write The Professionals with an idea about a group of nomadic young kidnappers, and a few chapters into the story their path took them up to Minnesota, where Stevens cottoned on to their scheme. Stevens partnered with Windermere, the kids fled the state, and by the end of the caper I had an unlikely partnership ready to take on their next adventure.

Stevens is a family man. He’s middle aged, kind of paunchy, bad hairline—he’s your average fortysomething desk jockey cop. Wicked sense of humor and a hardass when he has to be, but he’s never going to win any beauty pageants. Windermere, on the other hand…

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Helsinki Blood by James Thompson

March 20, 2013 by  •
James Thompson“Forgive me, Father, for I am about to sin oh so grievously.” – Milo Nieminien

Things were pretty grim when we last saw Finnish Inspector Kari Vaara and his crew at the end of Helsinki White. Though they’d brought the high profile Lisbet Söderlund case to a conclusion–more or less–it was not without great cost, both personally and professionally.

Already physically battered from previous years on the job (Snow Angels, Lucifer’s Tears) and emotionally numb as a side effect of surgery to remove a brain tumor, Vaara once again suffered debilitating gunshot injuries to the knee and jaw. His right-hand man, the über intelligent if slightly unstable Milo Nieminien, was also left crippled by a gunshot to the wrist, while Vaara’s wife, Kate, was forced to take an action so extreme it has left her with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The only one who escaped relatively unscathed was the team’s third member, Sulo “Sweetness” Polvinen, though Sweetness was already carrying around a drinking problem, one which hasn’t gotten any better in the aftermath. Of course, the team also managed to make ten million in ransom money “disappear,” and that’s going a long way toward easing their respective pain.

Until, that is, Kate finally snaps and runs off back home to America, and the people Vaara and his team have made enemies of–and their numbers are legion–decide it’s time to start pushing back. Now Vaara must once again rally his dysfunctional team around him, this time with the goal of getting out from under the sword hanging over their heads once and for all…whatever it takes.

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Heroin, Love, Bank Robberies, Dysfunctional Relationships, and Jail: Hold-Up, a memoir by Patrick O’Neil

March 20, 2013 by  •
It’s not Patrick O’Neil’s fault I haven’t read his memoir, Hold-Up. You see, despite the fact Patrick is about as punk rock, red-blooded American as you can get, his memoir is only being published in France…in French. I’ve gotten to know Patrick well enough over the past couple of years through social media (you absolutely need to follow him on G+ and/or Facebook–his ongoing “battles” with the TSA alone are worth the price of admission) and his Los Angeles and San Francisco essays, however, that even without having read it I felt very strongly about giving him a platform to talk about Hold-Up, the story behind its publication, and his continuing search for a US home for his story. Patrick, the floor is yours…

Patrick O’NeilI was that kid from a decent yet dysfunctional nuclear family: father a professor, mom a social worker, three children, and nobody communicated. We traveled the world, living abroad. I was always the new kid on the playground, the one that looked different and didn’t speak the language. Finally the wheels fell off and my parents separated.

Along the way a sense of alienation and not belonging became part of my psyche, which readily parlayed into an easy admittance to art school. Four years later I emerged with a budding heroin habit and what looked like a promising career in the music industry.

A quick segue ahead (eighteen years) and believe it or not my life was out of control as a result of said heroin habit. I’d gone from a contributing card carrying member in high standing of San Francisco’s punk rock movement to so strung out I couldn’t even hold down a menial labor job. My girlfriend (who I call Jenny to protect her identity) and I had ended up homeless. In an attempt to save me, my mother rented us an apartment in her upscale Marina district neighborhood. A neighborhood, with the help of my friend Sal (another pseudonym), I begin systematically robbing.

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

March 18, 2013 by  •
In what has become something of a custom, I’m pleased to welcome James Thompson to the blog to celebrate the latest release in his Inspector Kari Vaara series, Helsinki Blood. As usual, Jim was incredibly frank with his answers, and covered everything from his writing routine to his recent dustup with Finland’s extreme right-wing party to his thoughts on violence in entertainment and gun control. Thank you, Jim, for proving once again that you’re not just an incredibly talented author, but also an incredibly interesting person.

James ThompsonWhen we last talked, at the time of Helsinki White’s release, you had finally struck upon a mix of medications that allowed you to control your debilitating headaches to an at least tolerable level. However, you also said that during the time leading up to that discovery–when you were having problems to the point you were literally going to hospital via ambulance–you had an added incentive to write; that you felt the need to produce as much as possible when you thought you may literally be at death’s door. Has that sense of urgency about your writing changed any now that your health situation is more under control?

No, the sense of urgency remained, and the routine I developed during that time stayed with me. I continue to start working as soon as I wake up and don’t stop until I fall asleep, reading books for research or review. Seven days a week. Of course I have to stop and do those things we do to get through life: shower, clean house, shop, eat, and so on. And if my wife asks me to stop and do something with her, I will. But otherwise, I do little but work. Luckily, I enjoy it. I think that you’ll find if you ask a few, that successful authors in general have my work habits. The more authors accomplish, the more people want and need from them. To get it all done, work requires constant focus and dedication. It’s not a job, it’s a way of life.

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All the Wild Children by Josh Stallings

March 15, 2013 by  •
Out There Bad by Josh Stallings“I don’t believe some higher force is planning this life for me. If I did, I’d give up, lay down and die right now. Because it would be clear, that fuck in the sky hates my ass.” – Moses McGuire

When Moses McGuire expressed that sentiment in Out There Bad, the second in author Josh Stallings’s series featuring the hard-drinking suicidal strip club bouncer, I thought it was pretty cool. So much so, I started my review of the book by quoting it. That there was a little bit of Stallings in McGuire—ok, maybe more than a little—was never really in doubt, but I didn’t realize exactly how much of an outlook on life they shared until I read Stallings’s memoir, All the Wild Children.

You see, by all reasonable measure, Stallings shouldn’t be alive. Between the obstacles and circumstances life threw at him and some epically bad choices he made on top of them, Stallings has led the most charmed cursed life in history to still be walking the planet. And he could easily be forgiven for thinking, like McGuire, that fuck in the sky hates his ass.

Plunging headlong out a window into a patch of thorny shrubbery, having your stomach pumped (three times), and driving a truck head-on into a tree would make for an impressive resume of misadventure for anyone during their lifetime—Stallings accomplished it all before his fifth birthday. Yeah, you read that right. And he was just warming up. Welcome to Stallings’s world…this is the new normal.

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Penguins & Vomit by Josh Stallings

March 14, 2013 by  •
It is my extreme pleasure to welcome Josh Stallings, author of the Moses McGuire series, to the blog today to talk about his amazingly frank and powerful memoir, All the Wild Children (Snubnose Press).

Out There Bad by Josh Stallings“I like your word choices and the metaphors.” My mother said that as a way to try and talk about my crime books. “Honey, why do you think people like your writing?” She doesn’t like it and is truly baffled that others do. I get that. Fucked in the head violent drunks ain’t everybody’s idea of a hero.

But what made me smile was a mother’s need to find something to like. My metaphors? I’m not a fan of metaphors; this may be driven by my suspicion that all life is a metaphor for something deeper. Maybe I just didn’t take metaphor 101 so I don’t get them. And so, contrary son of a bitch that I am…

Penguins.

Huddled in a huge mass of black and white sits a fledgling. When the mothers go off to hunt up some fish, the young must be accepted by the flock or get pushed out and freeze. So far it seems clear, fit in or die. But when the mother penguins return the fledglings all cheep or chirp or whatever sound it is they make. This is where it gets tricky. If their chirp isn’t unique, if their mother cannot differentiate its baby from the masses, the baby starves.

Fit in or die. Primal shit.

Be seen as unique or die. Equally primal shit.

“Penguins?” you are thinking. “Has Josh gone soft and all Nat-Geo? What the fuck do penguins have to do with his memoir?”

I am 50, and I am sitting in the dayroom of a mental hospital is how All The Wild Children begins, but it isn’t how it started.